WASHINGTON (CN) – As President-elect Donald Trump fleshes out his cabinet, experts across the spectrum are voicing alarm that the new administration has not heeded any of the lessons brought to light by exposure of the CIA’s clandestine torture program.
Confirmation in 2007 that the CIA had waterboarded suspected members of al-Qaida spurred outrage across the globe, but Trump scoffed at these critics nearly a decade later during the early days of the presidential primaries.
Defending the need for what he called a "minor form" of torture like waterboarding, the Republican said he would approve "a hell of a lot worse.”
"Believe me, it works OK," Trump said at one February speech in South Carolina.
The boast was concerning but former CIA analyst John Kiriakou said in an interview that he had hoped the real estate mogul was exaggerating.
Back in 2007 Kiriakou was the first U.S. government official to confirm the CIA’s use of waterboarding, a practice he characterized as torture.
"I can't even believe that we have to have a conversation like this. It's sick to me, just sick," Kiriakou said in a phone interview. "It's as though we just as a country, we just don't learn our lessons.”
Kiriakou is speaking out now out of concern that Trump's words are more than the braggadocio he put on display in debates.
"I've been appalled so far by his national-security appointments because I realize that he wasn't exaggerating and he wasn't kidding," said Kiriakou. "The only thing that prevents me from actively fearing for the nation on this issue is the fact that torture is patently illegal.”
The hawkish Kansas congressman whom Trump picked for CIA director, Rep. Mike Pompeo, recently defended the Bush-era torture program, saying all Americans who carried out torture are "patriots.”
And Trump's pick for national security adviser, retired Defense Intelligence Agency chief Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, has said he would not ruled out the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques."
Though Trump has not had a press conference since his Nov. 8 election, the president-elect has reportedly expressed a more nuanced view of torture thanks to a meeting with the retired Marine Corps general whom Trump is reportedly planning to tap as defense secretary.
Mattis, who once led the U.S. Central Command, reportedly told Trump that torture wasn't useful – something Trump told The New York Times he was surprised to learn.
“I’m not saying I changed my mind,” Trump told the Times on Tuesday. He followed that by saying maybe torture is "not going to make the kind of difference that a lot of people are thinking."
One voice in the broad consensus that torture is actually ineffective is Kiriakou.
"Talk to any FBI agent past or present and they'll tell you that these techniques just simply don't work," Kiriakou said.
The 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture and the CIA Inspector General's report, which was leaked in 2009, show "definitively" that torture produced no intelligence that thwarted attacks against Americans or saved American lives, he noted.