White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Wednesday said he had "no idea" where a controversial executive order that seemed poised to reinstate secret overseas CIA prisons came from, stating that President Donald Trump had not seen it.
The draft, titled "Detention and Interrogation of Enemy Combatants," copies of which were obtained by the Associated Press and the Washington Post, would revoke former President Barack Obama's decision to ban torture techniques and end the CIA program that allowed "interrogation of high-value alien terrorists to be operated outside the United States." It would also send "enemy combatants" to the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Obama failed to close Guantánamo Bay during his presidency, but no new detainee has been sent there since 2009, and the population there steadily decreased under his watch.
Spicer told reporters that the order was "not a White House document. I have no idea where it came from.... To the best of my knowledge, [Trump] hasn't seen it."
MSNBC's Ari Melber suggested that if the document did not originate in the White House, as Spicer claims, it may have come from another federal department, such as the Pentagon or the Office of Legal Council..
It's not clear whether senior members of Trump's administration, such as Defense Secretary James N. Mattis and CIA director Mike Pompeo, were consulted on the order, outlets noted.
The Post also adds:
There are other problematic assertions in the draft. It states, for example, that more than 30 percent of the detainees released from Guantánamo Bay "have returned to armed conflict." But statistics from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which tracks detainee matters, suggest that figure is closer to 18 percent.
Whether or not it's real, the document drew wide condemnation from members of Congress, signaling that a backlash could occur if Trump does endorse the order. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a former POW, said 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."
It also prompted criticism from rights groups.
"The CIA's secret prison program was one of the most shameful chapters in recent U.S. history," said Katie Taylor, deputy director at the international human rights organization Reprieve. "It saw men, women and even children kidnapped, abused and 'rendered' to dungeons around the world—causing untold damage to America's reputation and security."
The draft order "authorizes the CIA to restart their detention program, which was the source of so much of the torture that undermined our national security," Elisa Massimino, president of Human Rights First, added to the Post. Those policies "made fighting the war harder and strengthened the resolve of our enemies. That's what's at stake here."