Tuesday, December 11, 2007

ABC News shows waterboarding; ex-CIA agent says that technique probably has prevented more attacks

I recall a scene in New Line's recent release "Rendition" where the character played by Jake Gyllenhaal, Hollywood's nicest "hunk," tells his boss (Meryl Streep) over a cell phone while overlooking a middle Eastern bazaar, "I'm here on my first torture." The audience laughed.

Last night's story on ABC World News Tonight by Richard Esposito and Brian Ross, "
Coming in From the Cold: CIA Spy Calls Waterboarding Necessary But Torture;
Former Agent Says the Enhanced Technique Was Used on Al Qaeda Chief Abu Zubaydah," link here, is anything but funny. Former CIA agent John Kiarakou admitted he was concerned about the ethics and morality of what he did, but he thinks it saved lives and now says that the information he got after about thirty seconds of torture may have prevented one or more major attacks in the United States since the interview. (ABC offers a video in ten parts of the full interview -- over a half hour of viewing, more than what was shown on the News show; it places copyright limitations on its use by others; please lead the legal instructions on the link above; I won't reproduce any of the video here). The televised news report did demonstrate briefly how waterboarding works; it simulates the experience of drowning, with pressure from the cellophane and use of the mammalian gag reflex. (The ABC video available on line does not include the demonstration). CIA agents themselves break in about ten seconds; Zubaydah lasted a couple minutes.

Zubaydah, according to these accounts, was a key figure in funding the 9/11 attacks. He claims he did not expect the large loss of life or collapse of the WTC buildings, although stories about the planning of the 1993 attack would contradict this, as would bin Laden's behavior when he gloated over the attacks in an Dec. 13, 2001 broadcast (the day I was laid off!)

The Washington Post has a story on P A1 this morning (Dec 11) "Waterboarding Recounted: Ex-CIA Officer Says It 'Probably Saved Lives' but Is Torture," by Joby Warrick and Dan Eggen, p A1, here. There has been considerable media coverage of the legal implications of possible CIA destruction of the evidence of its practices.

Generally, CIA officials have said that they thought that they legal clearance for the practices that they use, but they admit that the law is murky.

Note: See later posting Feb. 8, 2008 on this blog about "Human Rights First."

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