What you need to know about Trump, “Black Sites” and Torture

Photo: Gage Skidmore

In a recent interview, US President Donald Trump suggested he was open to bringing back torture and reiterated his belief that torture “works”. This follows the emergence of a draft executive order which would pave the way for the return of CIA “black sites”, and “enhanced interrogation” techniques like waterboarding.

Here’s a quick debrief on what you need to know on Trump, black sites and torture:

What are “black sites”?

“Black sites” were the network of CIA secret prisons which spanned the globe until their use was banned by President Obama. In the aftermath of 9/11, the US abducted innocent men, women and children, and rendered them to secret prison camps in places such as Afghanistan, Syria and Poland.

The US administration justified its appalling treatment of these people by labelling them “enemy combatants” – prisoners with no constitutional rights. Detainees were brutally tortured, while being held in legal black holes, with no access to a lawyer and no hope of release.

What is “extraordinary rendition”?

“Extraordinary rendition” was the process by which the US kidnapped people and flew them to secret prisons – or black sites – around the world, where they were tortured.

What are “enhanced interrogation techniques”?

“Enhanced interrogation techniques” is a euphemism for torture, and includes such abuses as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, keeping prisoners in small boxes for up to 18 hours, stress positions, forced nudity, sexual threats, and so-called “rectal rehydration”.

Who were the victims of the programme?

The victims of the programme included men, women and children. In 2004, the families of two anti-Gaddafi dissidents were kidnapped and ‘rendered’ to Libyan prisons, in a joint CIA-MI6 operation. Among them were a pregnant woman, and four children aged 12 and under.

Does torture work?

No. In its exhaustive 2014 report on the abuses of the Bush era, the US Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that the use of torture by the US after 9/11 was ineffective, and did not produce actionable intelligence. The Committee’s primary finding was that “enhanced interrogation techniques” were “not an effective means of acquiring intelligence.”

Torture also damages the US’s reputation, at home and abroad. President Trump’s own National Security Advisor, Mike Flynn, has spoken out against torture, saying in 2014 that: “If there’s an American strategic advantage, it is our values. We must protect our values at all costs.”

How were other countries such as the UK involved?

British facilities – such as the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean – were used by CIA rendition planes, carrying prisoners to secret torture sites around the world. Britain’s MI6 also provided the intelligence to enable the kidnap and rendition of two families to Libya. In its ruling on the rendition and torture of British resident Binyam Mohammed, the High Court said the UK’s role in his abuse was “far beyond that of a bystander”.

What do other US lawmakers think about using “black sites” and torture?

The former chair of the Senate Intelligence committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, has said that “We can’t base national security policies on what works on television; policies must be grounded in reality.”

US Senator John McCain, a former torture victim, has spoken out against the revived use of torture techniques, saying: “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.”