President Donald Trump has declared that he believes torture works as his administration readies a sweeping review of how the United States conducts the war on terror.
It includes possible resumption of banned interrogation methods and reopening CIA-run “black site” prisons outside the United States.
In an interview with ABC News, Mr Trump said he would wage war against Islamic State militants with the singular goal of keeping the US safe.
Asked specifically about the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, Mr Trump cited the extremist group’s atrocities against Christians and others and said: “We have to fight fire with fire”.
Mr Trump said he would consult with new Defence Secretary James Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo before authorising any new policy.
But he said he had asked top intelligence officials in the past day: “Does torture work?”
“And the answer was yes, absolutely,” Mr Trump said.
He added that he wants to do “everything within the bounds of what you’re allowed to do legally”.
Watch an excerpt of the ABC interview here
A clip of Mr Trump’s interview was released after The Associated Press and other news outlets obtained copies of a draft executive order being circulated within his administration.
Beyond reviewing interrogation techniques and facilities, the draft order would instruct the Pentagon to send newly captured “enemy combatants” to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, instead of closing the detention facility as President Barack Obama had wanted.
Altogether, the possible changes could mark a dramatic return to how the Bush administration waged its campaign against al-Qaeda and other extremist groups.
Trump spokesman Sean Spicer, questioned about the draft order, said it was “not a White House document” but would not comment further.
The draft says US laws should be obeyed at all times and explicitly rejects “torture.” But its reconsideration of the harsh techniques banned by Mr Obama and Congress raises questions about the definition of the word and is sure to inflame passions in the US and abroad.
After the September 11, 2001, attacks, President George W Bush authorised a covert program that led to dozens of detainees being held in secret locations overseas and to interrogation tactics that included sleep deprivation, slapping and slamming against walls, confinement in small boxes, prolonged isolation and even death threats.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 26, 2017
Three detainees faced waterboarding. Many developed psychological problems.
While some former government leaders insist the program was effective in obtaining critical intelligence, many others say the abuses weakened America’s moral standing in the world, hurt morale among intelligence officers and proved ineffective before Mr Obama shut it down.
On the campaign trail, Mr Trump spoke emphatically about toughening the US approach to fighting the Islamic State group.