CIA chief warns Trump against torture – Reprieve comment

November 30, 2016

The director of the CIA, John Brennan, has warned President-elect Donald Trump against resuming the use of torture.

Mr Brennan told the BBC, in an interview broadcast this morning, that “the overwhelming majority of CIA officers would not want to get back into” the use of torture such as waterboarding. He added: “Without a doubt the CIA really took some body blows as a result of its experiences.”

President-elect Trump has said he would “bring back waterboarding” and “a hell of a lot worse.” Last week, he told the New York Times that “if [torture] is so important to the American people, I would go for it.” Trump’s choice to succeed John Brennan as CIA chief, Mike Pompeo, has incorrectly suggested that torture is legal.

In 2014, a detailed report by the US Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence concluded that the torture programme “was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence”, that its use “impeded” the US Government’s national security, and that the programme “damaged the United States’ standing in the world.”

The President-elect’s pledges to bring torture back pose potential problems for US-UK intelligence sharing. UK intelligence agencies cannot legally assist a US administration that tortures prisoners. International human rights organization Reprieve – which assists torture and rendition victims – wrote to the UK Prime Minister seeking clarification about this issue on 11 November, but has received no substantive response.

Mr Brennan’s comments come as MI6 faces a legal challenge for its participation in CIA torture and rendition. A UK Supreme Court decision is expected soon in a case where MI6 officers conspired with the CIA to abduct and render a pregnant woman, and several  children.

Abdel Hakim Belhaj, an anti-Gaddafi dissident who, along with his pregnant wife Fatima, was kidnapped in the joint CIA-MI6 operation and rendered to Gaddafi’s Libya, is asking for a token £3 and an apology from the UK. Reprieve is assisting the Belhaj family.

Commenting, Katie Taylor, a deputy director at Reprieve, said:

“When even the director of the CIA expresses concerns over torture, loud alarm bells should ring. The use of torture and rendition – including against women and children – has achieved nothing, and done immeasurable damage to the US’ standing around the world. Donald Trump must urgently listen to these warnings, and avoid repeating the disastrous errors of his predecessors.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org / +1 917 855 8064.

2. The President-elect’s comments on torture can be seen here and here, while Mike Pompeo’s comments are here.

3. More information about the Belhaj family’s case can be seen at Reprieve’s website. Reprieve’s letter to the Prime Minister is available on request.

4. The published portion of the US Senate’s report on CIA torture is available here.