President Donald Trump's tough talk on countering terrorism and U.S. media reports that his administration may be considering reviving a counterterror program that earned worldwide condemnation are increasing European alarm about America's new leadership.
In London, the pushback has been fierce, complicating British Prime Minister Theresa May's trip to Washington, where she hopes to begin forging closer ties between post-Brexit Britain and the United States.
Senior members of May's ruling Conservatives and opposition leaders, as well as influential celebrities, including Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, have criticized Trump's midweek remarks to CNN that "torture works" in the interrogation of terrorism suspects.
And they have expressed dismay at U.S. media reports suggesting the new administration may be considering reopening secret CIA-run prisons outside the U.S. to handle suspected terrorists. The reports on the possible revival of "black sites" are based on a purported draft executive order suggesting Trump may order a review of how America interrogates suspected terrorists.
The New York Times and Associated Press both reported at midweek that they had copies of the document, which they said was circulating among top administration officials. But White House spokesman Sean Spicer insisted the draft "is not a White House document.'"
He provided no further explanation as to the draft's provenance or any theory about its authorship. "I have a no idea where it came from," Spicer told reporters.
The Times, however, reported late Wednesday that it had been told by three unnamed administration officials that the White House circulated the document among National Security Council staff members for review Tuesday morning. Spicer had come under criticism earlier this week for making misleading or transparently false statements from the White House podium.
Heat on May
Andrew Tyrie, a senior Conservative lawmaker in Parliament, has urged May to make it clear when she meets Trump that Britain will not facilitate torture or provide assistance in operating black sites. "When she sees him on Friday, will the prime minister make clear that under no circumstances will she permit Britain to be dragged into facilitating that torture, as we were after September the 11th?" he asked the British leader Wednesday in the House of Commons.
In response, May said, "I can assure my honorable friend that we have a very clear position on torture. We do not sanction torture, we do not get involved with that, and that will continue to be our position."
"You cannot lead on a global stage by advocating torture," tweeted Conservative lawmaker Sarah Wollaston.
The leader of Britain's opposition Labor Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has urged May to "stand up for our country's values when she meets Donald Trump and oppose his support for torture, which is inhumane, illegal and delivers false intelligence."
As May left the British capital for the U.S., she insisted she wouldn't be afraid to speak candidly to Trump on matters where they disagree, pointing out she had criticized remarks he made about women and Muslims.
European leaders have also been quick to stress their opposition to the use of torture techniques or black sites. They have warned any return to the counterterror program run by the administration of Trump's Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, could disrupt European-American cooperation in the war against terror — including current agreements on data and intelligence sharing.
Even if European governments wanted to assist with black sites, analysts say, it would be legally difficult for them to do so.
The European Court of Human Rights has issued several rulings in recent years in cases brought before the court arising from Bush-era European cooperation and cases concerning Guantanamo detainees.
Poland, Italy and Macedonia all have faced legal challenges for participating in the Bush-era High Value Detainee Program run by the CIA, including a European Court of Human Rights ruling that required Poland to pay $262,000 in reparations to two Guantanamo inmates who had been tortured in Poland.
The ECHR rulings, analysts say, would largely prohibit European states from collaborating with a U.S. counterterrorism policy that uses enhanced interrogation techniques or degrading treatment, which the court has labeled torture, or extraordinary rendition, the practice of sending a foreign terrorist suspect covertly to be interrogated in a country with less rigorous regulations for the humane treatment of prisoners.
"While there is a varying degree of compliance with ECHR obligations across the 47 states of the Council of Europe, press and political pressures will mean that states that value and take pride in their respect for human rights will find it difficult politically to cooperate with the Trump administration, should it gain notoriety for torture, or inhumane or degrading treatment," said Brian Chang, analyst with the University of Oxford's Parliaments, the Rule of Law and Human Rights Project.
Black sites and extraordinary rendition remain explosive issues for European governments, which were burned in a political backlash when their cooperation with the High Value Detainee Program became known publicly. Ministers in the government of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, including Jack Straw, who as home secretary signed off on several renditions, are still being sued in British courts for their participation in the CIA's past detention and interrogation programs.
French, Spanish cases
French and Spanish courts are also pursuing cases. Earlier this year, General Geoffrey Miller, former commander of U.S. forces at Guantanamo Bay, ignored a subpoena from a French court that is hearing a case brought by Guantanamo detainee and French citizen Mourad Benchellali.
The Bush administration sanctioned the use of torture in the aftermath of 9/11. While it stopped soon after that, it was only when Barack Obama became president in 2009 that a formal ban on enhanced interrogation was announced.
Starting in 2006, the Council of Europe launched a series of inquiries to determine what secret detention facilities the CIA operated in Europe. A European Parliament committee also investigated that issue but was unable to get far, prompting the European Parliament last year to condemn obstacles member governments placed in the path of investigators.
The European Parliament named Lithuania, Poland, Italy and the United Kingdom as countries complicit in the CIA's Bush-era operations. A U.S. Senate report on torture made public in 2014 said that Poland's former president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, signed off on a CIA black site in his country.