John McCain
Arizona Senator John McCain said: 'The president can sign whatever executive orders he likes. But the law is the law.' Getty Images

President Donald Trump's suggestion that he wants to bring back harsh interrogations techniques for terrorism detainees has met stiff opposition from high-ranking US senators.

"We are not bringing back torture in the United States of America," said Arizona Republican John McCain, in a statement on Wednesday 25 January. "The president can sign whatever executive orders he likes. But the law is the law."

Senator McCain, who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he expects Trump's CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis to be "true to their word" and honour commitments they made to him not to employ torture techniques.

Yet in an interview on ABC News late on 25 January, Trump said that he believes torture works and supported the idea of bringing back "enhanced interrogation techniques" like waterboarding.

Trump said he spoke with top intelligence officials that told him torture works. "I asked them the question: Does it work? Does torture work? And the answer was, yes, absolutely."

"I want to do everything within the bounds of what you're allowed to do legally, but do I feel it works? Absolutely I feel it works," Trump said.

He added: "When Isis is doing things that no one has ever heard of, since medieval times, would I feel strongly about waterboarding? As far as I'm concerned, we have to fight fire with fire."

Earlier in the day, the New York Times broke news of a draft executive order for Trump that would reinstate "to the extent permitted by law" a 2007 George W Bush directive stripping members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban of protections as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions. The Bush directive also gives the president the authority to "interpret the meaning and application" of the conventions meant to protect human rights during times of war.

Trump's draft order said he would also repeal a directive issued by President Barack Obama "ensuring lawful interrogations." It would also look at whether the CIA's "black site" programme where terror suspects were detained and interrogated at secret foreign prisons should be brought back.

In 2015 the US Senate voted 78-21 to amend the National Defense Authorization Act making torture illegal and limiting interrogations to what is described in the US Army Field Manual.

"Before President Trump takes any actions related to torture and secret overseas detention sites, I implore him to read the 6,700-page, classified version of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on CIA detention and interrogation," said Senate California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, in a statement.

"The tactics used by the CIA were not only more brutal than was known, but they also did not produce actionable intelligence," said Feinstein, who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee for most of Obama's Presidency. "Capturing terrorist suspects and torturing them in secret facilities failed. Period."