Is the U.S. government giving up the interrogation technique that extracted vital intelligence from 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?
On Fox News’s “The O’Reilly Factor” on September 20, Brian Ross, chief investigative correspondent for ABC News, reported that a tough interrogation technique called “waterboarding” had been used by the Central Intelligence Agency to break Mohammed, inducing him to surrender “very valuable” information.
Waterboarding, Ross explained, is “where a man is put upside-down. They put cellophane or a cloth over his mouth. They pour water. It gives the impression that the person is drowning.”
Speaking of 14 “high-value” al Qaeda targets subjected to harsh interrogation practices by the CIA, Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly asked Ross, “Now, the waterboarding broke all these guys?”
“Not in every case,” said Ross. “Some broke before [it] even got to that point.”
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed held out the longest, according to Ross. “About two and a half minutes [of waterboarding], according to our sources,” he told O’Reilly.
In some cases, said Ross, “the material that has been given [by the terrorists subjected to harsh tactics] has not been accurate, has been essentially to stop the torture.”
But Mohammed did provide accurate information. “In the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,” said Ross, “the information was very valuable, particularly names and addresses of people who were involved with al Qaeda in this country and in Europe. And in one particular plot, which would involve an airline attack on the tallest building in Los Angeles, known as the Liberty Tower.”
Last week, as Congress finished drawing up legislation to govern interrogation procedures for detained terrorists, members of Congress provided conflicting views on whether it prohibited waterboarding. The White House declined to say whether it would or would not.
On September 22, on NBC’s “Today,” Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) said, “There will be no such thing as waterboarding. We outlined the grave breaches of conduct. And you will never see that again. And we’ve stood up and said that cannot be done.”
On CBS’s “Face the Nation” on September 24, Washington Post National Political Editor John Harris asked McCain: “You said severe punishment, pain should not be inflicted, but serious pain can—what can that possibly mean in concrete terms?”
“In concrete terms, it could mean that waterboarding and other extreme measures such as extreme deprivation—sleep deprivation, hypothermia and others would be not allowed.”
Harris followed up: “What if the administration interprets it differently, as it is allowed to do under the provisions of this law?”
McCain said, “If we disagree with the interpretation, the fact is that those interpretations have to be published in the Federal Register. That’s a document that’s available to all Americans, including the press. And we in Congress, and the judiciary, if challenged, have the ability then to examine that interpretation and act legislatively. These are regulations the President would issue, we would be passing laws which trump regulations.”
In an interview last week with HUMAN EVENTS Assistant Editor Amanda Carpenter, Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts (R.-Kan.) concurred with McCain’s understanding that waterboarding would be terminated. House Intelligence Chairman Pete Hoekstra (R.-Mich.) and House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter (R.-Calif.), meanwhile, declined to discuss which specific interrogation techniques would or would not be permitted.
Brian Ross of ABC reported that water-boarding was effective in getting—
Sen. Pat Roberts (R.-Kan.): Who did?
Brian Ross. He said that was how they got information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Knowing that, should Congress ban—
Roberts: That is one of the techniques that will not be used anymore.
Roberts: I’m not going to make any further comment about it.
Do you think that’s good for national security. I mean, if it was an effective technique, according to this report?
Roberts: I’m not going to speak to that. There’s a series of techniques, and I think, overall, what is most helpful in interrogation is the fact that the detainee does not know what can be used. It’s the fear of the unknown and the fact that basically we know more than he does in regards to his activities. The length of that interrogation is also important, but I think that the situation with the waterboarding, I’m not sure how helpful that is. Obviously, if he says that’s the case then with Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, but I’d rather not get into the techniques. A lot of it still is classified, let alone that it’s been in the press and as chairman of the committee I really can’t comment.
Brian Ross of ABC reported that water-boarding was effective in extracting key information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. If this is so effective, should Congress ban the technique?
Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.): What we have through the Detainee Treatment Act and through the requirement that interrogation techniques be published, those views by the Department of Defense and the Army Field Manual, they made a decision to declassify all those interrogation techniques. But for those additional techniques, a handful in number that could be used by the CIA still in compliance with the prohibition against torture, cruel and inhumane and degrading treatment, but there may be additional techniques that would be authorized. But these would be classified.
The reason why it’s important that they are classified is because otherwise they would be on page one of the counter-interrogation training manuals for al Qaeda. So those are going to be classified, and there will have to be a legal determination by the Department of Justice if there is going to be a proposal to use one of these more aggressive techniques, which is what the CIA director said they needed to be able to know: Is it in bounds or out of bounds? So I think it’s going to require a little bit more, it’s going to be probably a classified decision and it’s going to be a little more nuanced than just is water-boarding going to be allowed or not allowed. It’s going to be a classified judgment based on the law that we pass.
Okay, do you think that technique is torture?
Cornyn: I don’t believe that water-boarding is torture because our own airmen use this as a training technique. So I don’t think that anything we subject our own people to as part of their training should be considered torture.
Brian Ross of ABC reported that water-boarding was very effective in getting key information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Are you taking that off the table?
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R.-Calif.): Here’s what I can tell you about our program. We have a very effective program, and I’ve talked to Mike Hayden, the head of the CIA, and we cannot discuss the program. But we have a very effective program, and we will have a very effective program for interrogations in the future. That is what I can tell you.
I talked to Chairman Roberts over in the Senate, and he said it was out. Is that a correct assessment?
Hunter: He said what?
He said waterboarding was out.
Roberts: What I can tell you is the statement that I gave you. Not one word different. This system is classified. We had an effective system before, and we will continue to have effective interrogations.
Brian Ross of ABC reported that water-boarding extracted key intelligence from Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. Should Congress ban that technique?
Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R.-Mich.): I will not discuss certain techniques.
Well, Chairman Pat Roberts of the Intelligence Committee said it was out. He told me waterboarding was out.
Hoekstra: I know what’s in and what’s out. That’s all I’m going to say at this point.
John McCain has been out there talking about this. How come you can’t? Is it a threat to national security?
Hoekstra: In war, one of the things that you hope that happens is, especially with high-value targets, that, well, the less they know the better. Because they’ll just prepare their soldiers accordingly.
Do you think waterboarding is torture?
Hoekstra: I’m not going to get into specifics.
But this is something we do to our own soldiers [in training], right?
Hoekstra: Listen to me. We do not torture. That’s been our policy, it always will be our policy and that’s all I’ll tell you.