Is waterboarding torture? Key question in furor over CIA tapes
Probes by Attorney General Mukasey and others could help determine how far the controversy reaches.
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The destroyed CIA tapes documented the interrogation of Mr. Zubaydah and a second man, Abd al-Rahim Al-Nashiri, the suspected mastermind of the USS Cole bombing.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Kiriakou, who has since retired from the CIA, said Zubaydah refused to talk after his capture. But that changed after about 30 seconds of waterboarding. The former CIA officer said that in 2002, he did not believe the technique amounted to torture. He said it had helped thwart ongoing terror plots and saved lives.
He said he now believes waterboarding is torture. "We're Americans and we're better than this, and we shouldn't be doing this kind of thing," he told ABC's Brian Ross.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina raised the waterboarding issue during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Tuesday. But he did it with a slight twist.
The witness was Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, chief legal adviser at the Pentagon's Office of Military Commissions.
"General Hartmann, do you believe waterboarding violates the Geneva Convention?" Senator Graham asked.
"Torture is illegal in the United States," the general said, echoing the Bush administration's standard response to questions about interrogation methods.
Graham was not satisfied with the answer. Suppose there is a downed American airman in Iran, the senator asked, and the Iranian government is waterboarding the airman to learn when the next US military operation will occur. What should be the response of the uniformed legal community regarding such activity?
Hartmann: "I'm not equipped to answer that question, senator."
Graham: "You mean you are not equipped to give a legal opinion?"
Hartmann: "I am not prepared to answer that question."
View from a former inspector general
Frederick Hitz has experience grappling with difficult moral and legal issues in an environment of intense secrecy. From 1990 to 1998, he served as inspector general of the CIA.
There are times when intelligence officers must make difficult judgment calls to quickly obtain crucial information, says Mr. Hitz, who now lectures at the University of Virginia Law School. But, he stresses, "Laws weren't meant to deal with that situation."
The former CIA inspector general says: "You deal with it at your own responsibility, and you will attempt to get that information by whatever means. That is the way things are."
He adds, "But you don't legalize it, and you don't in any way try to build a system around it."
Hitz says the Bush administration should drop its endorsement of harsh interrogations and instead abide by the interrogation regulations and safeguards in the US Army Field Manual. A measure to achieve this is pending in Congress.
"You might miss the odd bit of warning that was available if you had used every technique at your disposal," Hitz says. "But at the end of the day you have probably avoided more problems than you would have solved."