Wash. Post's Thiessen justifies waterboarding with yet another falsehood

››› ››› ADAM SHAH

In his new book, Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen justifies waterboarding by falsely claiming that the CIA adhered to limits on the technique described in a 2002 Department of Justice memorandum. In fact, the CIA inspector general found that one of the "interrogators/psychologists" acknowledged that in order to make the interrogation "more poignant," CIA interrogators at one location did not abide by the memo's limits.

Thiessen falsely claims waterboarding limited to methods described by DOJ

Thiessen: "The Bush administration placed strict limits" on waterboarding as outlined in DOJ memo, which "give the lie" to claims that CIA tortured. From Thiessen's book, Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack:

The Bush administration placed strict limits and stringent guidelines on how waterboarding could be employed. These limits were spelled out in a series of opinions from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. They are worth examining carefully, because they give the lie to the charge that the CIA was conducting a twenty-first century Inquisition.

On August 1, 2002, in a classified memorandum authorizing the CIA to use waterboarding on Abu Zubaydah, the OLC's John Yoo and Jay Bybee laid out the legal constraints on its application:

In this procedure, the individual is bound securely to an inclined bench, which is approximately four feet by seven feet. The individual's feet are generally elevated. A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes. Water is then applied to the cloth in a controlled manner. As this is done, the cloth is lowered until it covers both the nose and mouth. Once the cloth is completely saturated and completely covers the mouth and nose, air flow is slightly restricted for 20 to 40 seconds due to the presence of the cloth. This causes an increase in carbon dioxide levels in the individual's blood. This increase in the carbon dioxide level stimulates increased effort to breathe. This effort plus the cloth produces the perception of "suffocation and incipient panic," i.e., the perception of drowning.

The individual does not breathe any water into his lungs. During those 20 to 40 seconds, water is continuously applied from a height of twelve to twenty-four inches. After this period, the cloth is lifted, and the individual is allowed to breathe unimpeded for three or four full breaths. The sensation of drowning is immediately relieved by the removal of the cloth. The procedure may then be repeated. The water is usually applied from a canteen cup or small watering can with a spout. [Pages 131-132]

Thiessen: Americans "should take enormous comfort and pride in the care taken by the Justice Department and the CIA." After quoting extensively from the August 2002 Justice Department memo and a subsequent 2005 Justice Department memo discussing waterboarding, Thiessen writes: "Any American who reads these words should take enormous comfort and pride in the care taken by the Justice Department and the CIA to ensure that the detainee is not harmed during the procedure, and the strict limits placed on its application." [Page 137]

CIA IG states that CIA did not abide by limits set out by DOJ

CIA IG: Interrogator explained CIA differed from DOJ-approved technique because "it is 'for real.' " From the section titled "Videotapes of Interrogations" in the CIA inspector general's "Special Review: Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities":

OIG's review of the videotapes revealed that the waterboard technique employed at [REDACTED] was different from the technique as described in the DoJ opinion and used in the SERE training. The difference was in the manner in which the detainee's breathing was obstructed. At the SERE School and in the DoJ opinion, the subject's airflow is disrupted by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the Agency interrogator [REDACTED] continuously applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee's mouth and nose. One of the psychologists/interrogators acknowledged that the Agency's use of the technique differed from that used in SERE training and explained that the Agency's technique is different because it is "for real" and is more poignant and convincing.

CIA IG: "Waterboard was used in a manner inconsistent with the written DoJ legal opinion of 1 August 2002." From the inspector general's report:

During the interrogation of two detainees, the waterboard was used in a manner inconsistent with the written DoJ legal opinion of 1 August 2002. DoJ had stipulated that its advice was based upon certain facts that the Agency had submitted to DoJ, observing, for example, that " ... you (the Agency) have also orally informed us that although some of the techniques may be used with more than once [sic], that repetition will not be substantial because the techniques generally lose their effectiveness after several repetitions." One key Al Qa'ida terrorist was subjected to the waterboard at least 183 times [REDACTED] and was denied sleep for a period of 180 hours. In this and another instance, the technique of application and volume of water used differed from the DoJ opinions.

In his book, Thiessen also falsely claimed CIA interrogations stopped all attacks on U.S. interests

Thiessen: Since CIA interrogations began "al Qaeda has not succeeded in launching one single attack on the homeland or American interests abroad." In Courting Disaster, Thiessen claimed: "In the eight years since the CIA began interrogating captured terrorists, al Qaeda has not succeeded in launching one single attack on the homeland or American interests abroad." In fact, Al Qaeda has repeatedly attacked U.S. interests abroad, including a U.S. consulate, a U.S. embassy, and a Marriott hotel.

UPDATE: Later in book, Thiessen admits CIA IG found interrogators did not abide by limits. Thiessen himself notes later in the book that the CIA Inspector General found that interrogators did not abide by the constraints embodied in the DOJ August 1, 2002, memo. He writes:

[T]he Inspector General also found that "With respect to two detainees ... the use and frequency of ... the waterboard, went beyond the projected use of the technique as originally described by [the Department of Justice]." The Inspector General said that the volume of water was more than originally described, and that the use of the technique was more frequent -- alleging that Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times and that KSM was waterboarded 183 times. [Page 178]

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden has testified that waterboarding was used on three detainees, and thus, the CIA Inspector General has found that, for two of the three detainees the CIA waterboarded, the CIA went beyond the limits described by DOJ.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.