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GOP leaders speak out against torture after Trump comments

Philadelphia, PA-- The Republican leaders of the House and the Senate condemned the use of torture as an interrogation method on Thursday.

“Torture is illegal. Torture is not legal. And we agree with it not being legal,” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) declared at a press conference during the joint House and Senate Republican issues retreat.

“I think the director of the CIA has made it clear he’s going to follow the law. And I believe virtually all of my members are comfortable with the state of the law on that issue now,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said.

Trump's torture comments reopen debate about interrogation tactics

In 2015, Congress passed an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill, which limits the government to interrogation techniques included in the Army Field Manual. This prohibited Bush-era enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding.

The emphatic answers from the two highest ranking Republican leaders in Congress were prompted by a question from CBS News Congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes who asked the pair, “President Trump signaled he wants to re-examine, possibily modify the ban on torture. Is this a debate your members want to have?”

President Trump indicated that he would be open to reinstating those now prohibited Bush-era interrogation techniques on Wednesday, telling ABC News in an interview that intelligence officials told him that harsh interrogation methods were effective. 

“Does torture work? And the answer was, yes, absolutely,” Trump recounted. But the President stated that he would defer to the new Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the new CIA Director Mike Pompeo saying “I will rely on Pompeo and 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.”

CBS News and other outlets obtained a purported draft of an executive order which would call for a review of interrogation policies and “Making modification in and additions to those policies as consistent with the law, for the safe, lawful, and effective interrogations of enemy combatants captured in the fight against radical Islamism.” 

The document was first reported by the New York Times. White House press secretary Sean Spicer denied that the document came from the Trump White House.

“I have no idea where it came from, but it is not a White House document,” Spicer said at the daily briefing.

McConnell and Ryan’s comments added to a growing chorus of Republican lawmakers who have spoken out against the prospect of bringing back harsh interrogation methods.

“The Army Field Manual makes that very clear, and the law now is tied to the Army Field Manual. And so we view that to be a matter of settled law,” said Senator John Thune in Philadelphia the day before at a press conference.

“It’s currently against the law and I hope it will remain against the law,” the libertarian-leaning Republican Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) told CNN. “I really think that war — unless there’s an extraordinary exception — should be fought with the approval of the Congress and the approval of the American people.”

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) who was subject to torture as a POW during the Vietnam War summed it Congresses position in a strongly worded statement on Wednesday.

“The President can sign whatever executive orders he likes. But the law is the law. We are not bringing back torture in the United States of America”