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Terrorism & Security

Is waterboarding effective? CIA did it 266 times on two prisoners

The number, much higher than previously reported, comes out as President Obama visits CIA headquarters today.

By Liam Stack / April 20, 2009

A worker cleans the floor at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. in this file photo from 2005. New information suggests the CIA used waterboarding hundreds of times on two prisoners.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File

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The ongoing debate over the ethics and usefulness of interrogation techniques such as waterboarding received new fuel on Sunday night, with a New York Times report that two Al Qaeda suspects were subject to the method, which simulates drowning, a combined 266 times.

That number is higher than previously reported, and will no doubt cast a long shadow over President Obama's first scheduled visit to CIA headquarters today, where he will publicly address employees.

The New York Times reports that, according to a recently released May 2005 interrogation memo, Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding 83 times in August 2002.

Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, who has confessed to planning the September 11, 2001, attacks as well as personally beheading Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, was subjected to waterboarding 183 times in March 2003.

That version of events is starkly different than the one reported by ABC News in December 2007, when former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who was involved in the interrogation of Mr. Zubaydah, claimed he had only been waterboarded once for 35 seconds.

"The next day, he told his interrogators that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to cooperate," said Kiriakou in an interview...
"From that day on, he answered every question," Kiriakou said. "The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks."

The sheer frequency with which waterboarding was apparently used on these two suspects may cast doubt on past Bush administration assertions that they were strictly obeying guidelines on the use of the practice, says the Times. It also notes that "a footnote to another 2005 Justice Department memo released Thursday said waterboarding was used both more frequently and with a greater volume of water than the CIA rules permitted."

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