President Donald Trump said Wednesday that waterboarding works, although he suggested he would defer to his Cabinet secretaries on whether to deploy the controversial interrogation technique.
“Do I feel it works? Absolutely, I feel it works,” Trump told ABC News’ David Muir in an excerpt of an interview that will broadcast Wednesday evening.
Trump said he has asked the “people at the highest level of intelligence” within the past 24 hours if waterboarding and other forms of torture work. “And the answer was yes, absolutely,” Trump recalled.
He took a firm stance on defending the country from terrorism during the interview, insisting that he wants to keep America safe and when the Islamic State is chopping off the heads of Christians in the Middle East, the U.S. has to “fight fire with fire.”
But he also said he would defer to Defense Secretary James Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo. “I’m going with General Mattis. I’m going with my secretary,” he told Muir. “Because I think Pompeo’s gonna be phenomenal. I’m gonna go with that they say.”
Asked directly if he wants to revive waterboarding as president, Trump replied that he doesn’t want Islamic State militants chopping off anyone’s head in the Middle East over their religion.
“We have that and we’re not allowed to do anything,” Trump said. “We’re not playing on an even field. I will say this: I will rely on Pompeo and Mattis and my group. And if they don’t wanna do, that’s fine. If they do wanna do, then I will work toward that end. I wanna do everything I can within the bounds of what you’re allowed to do legally.”
Separately on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied reports that the Trump administration has drafted an executive order that would allow the CIA to reopen the controversial “black site” prisons closed by Barack Obama.
“It is not a White House document,” Spicer said at the daily press briefing. “I have no idea where it came from, but it is not a White House document.”
The alleged draft order, published in some news outlets including The New York Times, was not ordered by President Donald Trump, Spicer said Wednesday.
The document, which detailed proposed moves to walk back Obama administration directives limiting how intelligence agencies handle terrorism suspects, prompted the immediate rebuke of human rights groups. The CIA ran “black site” prisons overseas in secret after Sept. 11, 2001, at the direction of George W. Bush and reportedly tortured detainees there.
Madeline Conway contributed to this report.