In an interesting interview with USA Today, CIA Director Porter Goss says:
"This agency does not do torture. Torture does not work," Goss said. "We use lawful capabilities to collect vital information, and we do it in a variety of unique and innovative ways, all of which are legal and none of which are torture."
Goss "declined to describe interrogation methods exclusive to the CIA," McPaper reported, although he did brag about how
CIA interrogators use "a variety of unique and innovative ways" to collect "vital" information from prisoners
One of those "unique and innovative ways" is the practice of "water boarding," in which:
The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.
Such water boarding elicited the "vital" information from Ibn al Shaykh al Libbi that "Iraq trained al Qaeda members to use biochemical weapons." As a CIA-sourced ABC News investigation reports, "al Libbi had no knowledge of such training or weapons and fabricated the statements because he was terrified of further harsh treatment."
The administration's position is now crystal clear. "We do not torture," we water board; we do not use Soviet-style imprisonment/interrogation tactics, we just secretly use former Soviet facilities and Red Army false-confession techniques. And if some detainees die in the process, well, bad apples and all that.
It's easy to get distracted by the semantics and immorality of it all, but the ABC News story suggests a very pragmatic rebuttal to the administration: By whatever name or euphemism, water boarding seems like one of the worst methods possible of obtaining quality information. And treating water-boarded data either as a strong basis for policy, or as a prop to make a political argument, seems unwise at best.