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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.

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The new information came out over the weekend thanks to the investigative work of bloggers like Marcy Wheeler, who found it in the footnotes of Bush administration interrogation memos released last week and posted it to her blog emptywheel.

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Information on the frequency of the practice, and the amount of water used each time, was redacted from some copies of the memos but not from others. The numbers were not included in initial reporting on the release of the memos.

Writing on her blog, Ms. Wheeler points out that it is unclear how the CIA could use the method on these suspects so many times and still mange to abide by its own guidelines.

The same ... memo passage explains how the CIA might manage to waterboard these men so many times in one month each (though even with these chilling numbers, the CIA's math doesn't add up).
"...where authorized, it may be used for two "sessions" per day of up to two hours. During a session, water may be applied up to six times for ten seconds or longer (but never more than 40 seconds). In a 24-hour period, a detainee may be subjected to up to twelve minutes of water application. See id. at 42.  Additionally, the waterboard may be used on as many as five days during a 30-day approval period."
So: two two-hour sessions a day, with six applications of the waterboard each = 12 applications in a day. Though to get up to the permitted 12 minutes of waterboarding in a day (with each use of the waterboard limited to 40 seconds), you'd need 18 applications in a day.  Assuming you use the larger 18 applications in one 24-hour period, and do 18 applications on five days within a month, you've waterboarded 90 times–still just half of what they did to [Khalid Sheikh Mohamed].

The new information is certain to invigorate critics of the practice who say it is an ineffective way of obtaining information from detainees.

Last week, The New York Times made a similar claim in an article on the interrogation of Zubaydah, who was mistakenly believed to be a high ranking  "lieutenant" in Al Qaeda before interrogators realized he was just "a helpful training camp personnel clerk," the Times reported.

Interrogators, who spoke to the Times on condition of anonymity, said they believed Zubaydah told them everything he knew before waterboarding began. They communicated this to agency higher-ups in Washington, who nonetheless insisted on the use of the practice, and asked to watch it take place.

"You get a ton of information, but headquarters says, 'There must be more,' " recalled one intelligence officer who was involved in the case. As described in the footnote to the memo, the use of repeated waterboarding against Abu Zubaydah was ordered "at the direction of C.I.A. headquarters," and officials were dispatched from headquarters "to watch the last waterboard session."
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