The Bush Administration Made Waterboarding Almost Routine

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

IT WAS DEPRESSING enough when U.S. officials finally admitted last year that the country had waterboarded terrorism detainees. Bush administration officials from the president on down tried to quell the ensuing outcry by reassuring the country and the rest of the world that the technique, which simulates drowning and has been considered torture since it was introduced during the Spanish Inquisition, had been used only on high-ranking, "high-value" members of terrorist groups and only to obtain information necessary to avert an imminent and catastrophic attack. The administration and its band of lawyers argued that the application of such harsh interrogation techniques did not "shock the conscience" and thus abided by domestic and international strictures against torture because their use was limited, targeted and meant to save innocent lives.

Now comes the revelation that CIA interrogators were far from restrained in their use of this ancient and cruel technique.

According to a recently released Justice Department memo, CIA operatives subjected two al-Qaeda leaders -- alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and high-level lieutenant Abu Zubaida -- to 266 episodes of waterboarding. Mr. Mohammed is said to have been waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 -- for an average of six episodes a day of what has been described as among the most terrifying and brutal forms of coercive interrogation. Mr. Zubaida was subjected to water torture 83 times during August 2002. There is no mention of how many times a third detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was waterboarded. Had any foreign government or terrorist group treated U.S. citizens in this way, the country would have been appalled -- and rightly so.

The details are contained in a section of a May 30, 2005, memo from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel released last week by President Obama. First reported online by such blogs as Emptywheel, the section takes its information from a confidential report issued by the CIA's inspector general.

The savagery of extremists cannot justify the abdication of principles or the adoption of means as brutal as those of the extremists.

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