Last week, the U.S. Senate voted to ban the CIA’s use of 19 interrogation techniques which they deemed too cruel, including the controversial technique of waterboarding. Banning waterboarding is a mistake which will hamper future intelligence efforts and ultimately put lives in danger.
During a waterboarding session, the suspect is placed on a board, his mouth and nose covered with cellophane. The suspect is then turned upside down while water is poured over his face, creating a feeling of drowning.
Waterboarding has received the most attention of these 19 methods (which include using electric shocks, attack dogs, and exposure to sub-zero temperatures) due to controversy over its use against detainees suspected of having upper level ties with Al-Qaeda. Waterboarding is used in lieu of these other dangerous techniques that could permanently injure or kill the suspect. When carried out properly, waterboarding carries very little risk of major injury or death.
Among the three suspects who the United States admits to waterboarding are Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Abu Zubaida, top-level Al-Qaeda operatives who had a central role in the planning of the Sept. 11 attacks. The information given led to the arrest of several key Al-Qaeda figures responsible for plotting future attacks against America.
Waterboarding works. The three people waterboarded by CIA agents after 9/11 talked, giving the United States valuable information quickly. According to an account by former CIA officer John Kiriakou, Abu Zubaida broke after just 35 seconds of waterboarding, offering up important information regarding the 9/11 plot.
This isn’t to say that waterboarding is not a cruel technique; it undoubtedly is. It is a method that should be used by trained CIA investigators in extreme circumstances, where a delay in retrieving information from a detainee could result in an imminent threat to American lives.
It is not a technique that should be used by investigators in military prisons or by the FBI against American citizens, who are protected by their consitutional rights. Nor should confessions obtained by waterboarding be allowed to be used as evidence in legal proceedings.
Waterboarding’s only value and use should be in obtaining information from terror suspects when time is short.
Having the option to waterboard suspects in worst case scenarios could be the difference between saving American lives or having them lost to tomorrow’s version of 9/11. To rule it out entirely is to allow our enemies to claim victory over us if they can wait out interrogations until after an attack.
The United States must draw a line when it comes to torture. We must make clear to the rest of the world that there are practices we will never resort to. But to suggest that a practice which produces 30 seconds of fear and discomfort is as destructive and awful as if we outright beat prisoners into giving up information is ignorant.
If we are to maintain our national security, we cannot handcuff the CIA by limiting the tools they have when interrogating dangerous detainees.