CIA chief says he would resign before allowing President Trump to resume waterboarding

CIA Director John Brennan says he will resign before resuming waterboarding
(Image credit: Reuters/YouTube)

On Wednesday, at a Brookings Institution forum in Washington, CIA Director John Brennan reiterated that he would never allow waterboarding to resume at the agency, but acknowledged that the next president could order the reinstatement of the technique, widely regarded as a form of torture and banned by President Obama in a 2009 executive order. It will be up to the CIA director and others in the spy agency to decide if they can carry out those orders "in good conscience," Brennan added, "and I can say that as long as I'm director of CIA, irrespective of what the president says, I'm not going to be the director of CIA that gives that order. They'll have to find another director."

Brennan did not mention Donald Trump by name, but Trump has publicly endorsed the use of waterboarding and interrogation techniques "much tougher than waterboarding," while the other likely next president, Democrat Hillary Clinton, opposes waterboarding. Brennan suggested he would resign if President Trump ordered the CIA to waterboard not just for moral reasons but also practical ones, saying "you cannot establish cause and effect between the application of these [techniques] and credible information that came out of these individuals."

The CIA began its post-9/11 use of waterboarding with an innocuous-sounding contract "for someone familiar with conducting applied research in high-risk operational settings," a euphemism the agency employed to hire psychologist James E. Mitchell and partner Bruce Jessen in late 2001, The Washington Post reports, citing newly released CIA documents from an ACLU lawsuit. At first, Mitchell and Jessen were paid $1,000 a day to devise and evaluate harsh interrogation techniques adapted from U.S. Special Operations programs designed to keep elite soldiers from cracking under torture, but their contract ballooned to $180 million by 2006 (though they collected about half that much before the CIA pulled the plug). You can read more about the origins of this dark chapter in CIA history at The Washington Post.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.