While President Trump said in an interview that aired Wednesday he “absolutely” thinks waterboarding “works” in fighting terrorism, he would face major challenges in trying to reinstate the torture tactic in U.S. policy.
“First and foremost… enhanced interrogation techniques are not legal,” said Fran Townsend, CBS News senior national security analyst and former homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush. “So regardless of whatever the president thinks of torture, enhanced interrogation techniques, he can’t implement it without Congress.”
Townsend pointed to the Army Field Manual for a definitive guide.
“If it’s permitted by the Army Field Manual, it’s legal and you can do it,” she said. “If it’s not in the Army Field Manual, it is most likely prohibited by the legislation passed by Congress. And so I think that we should -- to the extent this upsets and worries Americans, our allies around the world – it’s not legal now and cannot be reinstituted or begun anew without new legislation.”
On both sides of the aisle, Townsend said there is no support in Congress for the torture tactics.
“None. None,” she emphasized.
In the Wednesday interview, Mr. Trump said intelligence officials told him 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. “And the answer was yes, absolutely.”
But he said he would “rely” on CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis, who opposes waterboarding, for guidance on the policy.
“I want to do everything within the bounds of what you’re allowed to do legally,” Mr. Trump said.
“But do I feel it works?” Mr. Trump added. “Absolutely, I feel it works.”
Mr. Trump’s administration denied Wednesday that a purported draft of an executive order on U.S. interrogation methods and possible re-opening of CIA-run “black site” prisons actually originated from the White House. Townsend said with black sites, “you have to find countries that are willing to host them.”
“By the way, there have been lawsuits, there have been governments toppled over having hosted these,” Townsend said. “So it’s not clear you could even find, if you wanted to go back to it, find countries that’d be willing to host them.”
“I think it’s clear that the more complicated you make it for people to enter illegally, the more discouraging it is, right? Fewer people will cross. And it is true to say that every nation’s got the right to control its own borders,” she said. “But I mean, I will tell you in 2006, a decade ago when the law passed by Congress was sort of forced on the Bush administration, President Bush signed it into law, we found it to be very difficult. So we shouldn’t assume that any wall is going to be purely bricks and mortar. You’re going to use technology, you’re going to find ways to discourage people from trying to enter illegally.”
That also includes increasing the size of border patrol, Townsend said.