On Wednesday, President Donald Trump outlined the first concrete details of his controversial new immigration plans.
Already, the initial steps announced so far appear poised to disrupt the lives of millions of people living in the U.S. They include the beginning of work on Trump’s long-promised border wall, cutting federal funding to “sanctuary” states and cities, restrictions on travel to and from several majority-Muslim countries, and the suspension of America’s refugee program.
“We are in the middle of a crisis on our southern border: The unprecedented surge of illegal migrants from Central America is harming both Mexico and the United States,” Trump said. “A nation without borders is not a nation,” he added.
Despite this assertion regarding nations and their borders, however, another aspect of Trump’s plans announced Wednesday seems to fly in the face of this view. Building on previous pledges to reverse President Obama’s efforts to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and instead “load it up with some bad dudes,” Trump is now apparently looking at reviving the Central Intelligence Agency’s worldwide network of clandestine detention and torture “black sites.”
A draft document obtained and published by the New York Times and Washington Post on Wednesday suggests that Trump administration officials conduct a review and come up with a recommendation for the president as to “whether to reinitiate a program of interrogation of high-value alien terrorists to be operated outside the United States and whether such program should include the use of detention facilities operated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)”.
Though the Times and the Post reported the document as apparently originating in the White House, it contained errors and editing marks, and White House press secretary Sean Spicer cast doubt on its authenticity, telling the Post “it is not a White House document” and that he has “no idea where it came from.” Spicer refused to comment further on the document, however, and would not say whether Trump was considering reinstating the black site program.
In addition to his insistence on the need for nations to have well-defined borders, Trump has aggressively positioned himself in support of “law and order.” Yet he apparently favors selective enforcement.
“Mr. Trump’s order says no detainee should be tortured or otherwise subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment ‘as prescribed by U.S. law,'” notes the Times‘ Charlie Savage, “but it makes no mention of international law commitments binding the United States to adhere to humane standards even if Congress were to relax domestic legal limits on interrogations, such as the Convention Against Torture or the Geneva Conventions.”
If the draft document is a genuine reflection of Trump’s agenda, it says a lot about our new president and his reputation for “telling it like it is.” We need a strong border, he tells us, and to be a nation of laws — except when those laws are inconvenient for the government, in which case it is necessary and appropriate for said government to carry out blatantly illegal activities outside of our own borders, preferably in countries where the local sovereign governments are either totally corrupt or too poor and weak to resist American pressure.
“The CIA’s use of secret prisons, enforced disappearance and torture in the past was patently illegal and deeply damaging to the reputation and national security of the United States,” Laura Pitter, national security counsel for Human Rights Watch, told the Intercept. “Scores of men were subjected to brutal interrogation methods that were not only illegal but also an ineffectual means of gathering useful intelligence, and caused the US to waste resources pursuing false leads.”
Our new president seemingly never ceases to amaze with his endless string of unexpected gimmicks and publicity stunts. Let’s hope that a border wall, clandestine torture chambers in foreign countries, and selective enforcement of the law are not all that President Trump has up his sleeve when it comes to his plan to Make America Safe Again — and that his famous love for negotiating means that these policy proposals themselves remain negotiable. Otherwise it is probably safe to assume Trump’s national security plan will fail.