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U.S. backs off bid to reopen CIA 'black site' prisons: officials

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration has for now backed off a draft executive order that would have called for a review of whether the United States should reopen overseas "black site" prisons, where interrogation techniques often condemned as torture were used, U.S. officials have told Reuters.

The New York Times, citing unidentified officials, on Saturday said the White House was circulating a revised version that did not have language that contemplated reopening the prisons. It said the revised draft did, however, contain parts of the earlier draft, including expanding the use of the military's Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center.

A senior administration official confirmed the initial draft was no longer under consideration. "It was a transition draft never under serious consideration by the administration," the official said. "We have abandoned that transition draft."

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The now-defunct CIA program used so-called enhanced interrogation practices, including simulated drowning, known as waterboarding, that were criticized around the world and denounced by former President Barack Obama and other senior U.S. officials as torture.

Officials familiar with internal administration discussions said it was unclear when any alternative might be approved and said there were conflicting views within the administration on how to proceed.

Neither Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo nor Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had been consulted about the draft order before it leaked on Jan. 25, according to officials.

News of the draft executive order last week led to a bipartisan outcry in Congress. The draft plans also met with bitter resistance from the CIA and the military, according to officials in both.

"If the president had ordered us to waterboard anyone, let alone start pulling out fingernails, this place would have started to empty out," said one longtime CIA officer.

The black site prisons were used under President George W. Bush to detain terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and were formally closed by Obama.

Last week, President Donald Trump tapped Gina Haspel, a veteran CIA officer who supervised one of the prison sites, to be deputy director of the spy agency.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Palm Beach, Florida; Writing by David Shepardson and Tim Ahmann; Editing by Dan Grebler)

 
 
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