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6 Feb, 2008 20:03

Interrogation or torture?

America says waterboarding is merely a way to help question suspects. But many around the world say the ancient method, which has been around since the Spanish inquisition, should be illegal. For some it’s a necessary interrogation technique, but for othe

The U.S. government has defended the use of waterboarding, claiming it’s a legitimate method of questioning terrorism suspects.

Its forms vary, but generally it involves strapping an individual down and pouring water over the face to create sensation of drowning. It’s been traced back hundreds of years to the Spanish Inquisition and has since been widely condemned.

But the White House says it is an acceptable way to treat some prisoners and is not torture.

For the first time ever, the top intelligence officer has publicly named the victims.

“Let me make it very clear and to say so officially in front of this committee that waterboarding has been used on only three detainees. It was used on Khalid Sheik Mohammed, it was used on Abu Zubayda, and it was used on al-Nashiri,” said Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael Hayden.

Testifying before Congress, CIA director Michael Hayden referred to what he called “the specific circumstances of the time” and justified the technique by referring to the terrorist attacks on 9-11.

Although waterboarding hasn’t been reportedly used for five years, U.S. officials say it could potentially be revived.

“I’m not speculating at all on what circumstances in the future would cause the director of the CIA to make a proposal in that way, that’s something for director Hayden to address. What we do know is that they take the interrogation programme very seriously, they understand that it must be done with safeguards and under the rule of law,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto commented.

But that’s not a good enough reason for human rights activists, who call the testimony an explicit admission of criminal activity. They say drowning has been outlawed under the U.N.’s Convention against torture, which bans treatment resulting in physical or mental damage.

It also contravenes the U.S. 2006 Military Commissions Act, which prohibits employment of cruel, inhumane and degrading methods.

President Bush continues to assert that his administration is complying with U.S. and international law, even in the light of the admissions made by the head of the CIA.

Waterboarding is at the centre of public controversy, and even Wikipedia has recently blocked editing of its page until disputes have been resolved.