Trump says intelligence officials tell him torture works

Last Updated Jan 25, 2017 11:14 PM EST

President Trump said in an interview airing Wednesday that he has asked intelligence officials about the use of enhanced interrogation techniques on terror suspects. The answer he’s received: Torture “works.”

“I have spoken as recently as 24 hours ago with people at the highest level of intelligence and I asked them the question: Does it work? Does torture work?” Mr. Trump told ABC News in an interview that aired Wednesday evening. “And the answer was yes, absolutely.”

He followed up with a caveat, however, saying he would “rely” on his Cabinet when it comes to whether or not he would like to see torture techniques like waterboarding reinstated as U.S. policy.

“I will rely on [CIA Director] Pompeo and [Defense Secretary] Mattis and my group and if they don’t want to do, that’s fine. If they do want to do, then I will work toward that end,” the president said. “I want to do everything within the bounds of what you’re allowed to do legally.”

“But do I feel it works?” Mr. Trump went on. “Absolutely, I feel it works.”

In the ABC News interview, Trump said waterboarding is a viable interrogation technique because, he said, “we’re not playing on an even field.”

“When they’re chopping off the heads of our people and other people. When they’re chopping off the heads of people because they happen to be a Christian in the Middle East, when ISIS is doing things that nobody has ever heard of since medieval times, would I feel strongly about waterboarding? As far as I’m concerned, we have to fight fire with fire,” he said.

Mr. Trump’s determination on the effectiveness of torture techniques directly contradicts past reports on the issue. In 2014, the Senate Intelligence Committee conducted a comprehensive review of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation methods (in some cases including waterboarding) and deemed them ineffective. 

The three-and-a-half year investigation concluded that the agency’s methods were not useful in gathering information -- and that the CIA repeatedly misled Congress and the American public about the program to prolong its use. At the time, then-CIA Director John Brennan had deemed the value of enhanced interrogation, banned by former President Obama in 2009, “unknowable.”

President Trump’s comments to ABC come just as a draft executive order calling for the U.S. to reconsider the use terror interrogation methods continues to circulate widely.

The purported draft of the order pushes for a review of America’s methods for interrogating terror suspects and the possible reopening of so-called “black site” prisons outside the United States, run by the CIA.

But White House press secretary Sean Spicer pushed back Wednesday on reports of that draft, saying “it is not a White House document.”