Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Friday, September 14, 2007

  CIA finally fessing up to waterboarding

Unless I'm mistaken, the CIA and the Bush administration generally have always refused to confirm or deny that they employ the torture technique to which they've applied the euphemism "waterboarding". Even after Dick Cheney endorsed it in a radio interview last October (a story broken at, the administration tried to pretend that he had done no such thing.

This evening, ABC News is reporting that (anonymous) current and former CIA officials have stated that the CIA has now banned the use of waterboarding. It would seem to be the closest thing yet to official confirmation that the Bush White House authorized waterboarding of prisoners.

The controversial interrogation technique known as water-boarding, in which a suspect has water poured over his mouth and nose to stimulate a drowning reflex, has been banned by CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden, current and former CIA officials tell

The officials say Hayden made the decision at the recommendation of his deputy, Steve Kappes, and received approval from the White House to remove water-boarding from the list of approved interrogation techniques first authorized by a presidential finding in 2002.

The officials say the decision was made sometime last year but has never been publicly disclosed...

While new legislation reportedly gave the CIA the leeway to use water-boarding, current and former CIA officials said Gen. Hayden decided to take it off the list of about six "enhanced interrogation techniques."

I'm not sure how to reconcile the last two sentences quoted, since the "new legislation" in question dates to 2007 rather than 2006. Perhaps the penultimate sentence should more accurately read "...sometime within the last year..."?

Anyone, one cheer for the CIA torture regime:

While welcoming the move, some critics say the CIA did not go far enough.

"I can say it's a good thing, but the fact remains that the entire program is illegal," John Sifton of Human Rights Watch told

As a result of the decision, officials say, the most extreme techniques left available to CIA interrogators would be what is termed "longtime standing," which includes exhaustion and sleep deprivation with prisoners forced to stand, handcuffed with their feet shackled to the floor.

"It is a very severe form of torture which causes tremendous psychic toll to people," said Sifton.

Regarding psychological torture, I'll draw your attention to this excellent opinion piece by James Ross of HRW

The crystal blue waters and bright, hot day begged for a jump in the surf. But my friend, a refugee from Ethiopia, just wouldn't go near the ocean. "I haven't gone swimming for years," he said, shaking his head sadly, "Ever since the regime tortured me when I was a student. They stuck my head in dirty water until I thought I would drown."

People tend to think of torture as physical...

But torture is as likely to be mental as well as physical. The iconic photo of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal -- the hooded man on a box with outstretched arms -- was being subjected to psychological torture. The wires attached to his arms went nowhere -- he merely believed he would be subjected to electric shock.

It's worth noting that today's revelation comes only one day after ABC revealed some other embarrassing information about the use of waterboarding, which likewise appeared to confirm that the CIA has been using that form of torture:

When Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was strapped down to the water-board, he felt humiliated -- not by the treatment but by the fact that a woman, a red-headed CIA supervisor, was allowed to witness the spectacle, a former intelligence officer told ABC News...

A current CIA official says that KSM actually told interrogators the only reason he confessed was because of the water-boarding.

So on two consecutive days we see current and former CIA officials confirming in different ways that the CIA has been using waterboarding.

What are we to make of today's revelation? There's a real chance that CIA types decided that yesterday's leak didn't look very good, and they set about trying to reassure the public that all that torture is a thing of the past. I notice, for example, that ABC says the okay to ban waterboarding came from "the White House", rather than from a named official.

Could be true, then, that waterboarding has been banned by somebody or other...but one should never believe anything coming from the CIA without independent evidence. In any case, the CIA did not say that it has ceased contracting out waterboarding or any of the other currently favored forms of torture, whether to free-lancers or to foreign countries. Nor has the CIA necessarily closed down its secret prisons around the globe. It also left most of its preferred list of tortures intact.

So maybe less than one cheer for the CIA's torturers; considerably less than one.

crossposted from

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