Former CIA directors defend waterboarding, rectal rehydration

Former CIA directors defend waterboarding, rectal rehydration
Days after the release of the Senate’s report on post-9/11 CIA torture, Robert James Woolsey, former head of the intelligence agency, said he would still opt for the torture method known as waterboarding if it meant saving “thousands of American lives.”

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Justifying the use of simulated drowning, Woolsey, director of the CIA from 1993 to 1995, told BBC Radio 4 that waterboarding, which was used by the CIA against some terror suspects following the attacks of September 11, 2001, is "not as permanently damaging as other forms of torture,” such as "pulling out fingernails.”

"Would I waterboard again Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 killings and beheader of over 40 people?” Woolsey said during the interview. "Would I waterboard him if I could have a good chance of saving thousands of Americans or, for that matter, other allied individuals? Yes."

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, allegedly the lead plotter of the Al-Qaeda-orchestrated 9/11 attacks, was waterboarded 183 times by US agents. He remains a detainee in the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, where the trial for a handful of alleged 9/11 attackers has been marred by, among other issues, an ad hoc military tribunal system and past torture of the defendants upon their capture and rendition to secret CIA black sites around the world.

International law has long considered waterboarding to be a form of torture, and the US has punished those who have used the tactic against their own agents, including Japanese operatives who were hanged during and after World War II for waterboarding Americans, as BBC host Justin Webb pointed out to Woolsey.

Like other current and former US officials, Woolsey insisted that all methods of interrogation, including forms of torture, should be available for use in the event of an unrealistic, Hollywood-esque “ticking time bomb” scenario that would call for fast information from a suspect.

"The need to get information about the attackers was felt very keenly in this country and, I think, in other parts of the world,” he said of the CIA’s actions in the years after 9/11.

"It is been found twice now by our Justice Department that these techniques did not involve torture under American law,” he added, referring to justifications of torture cooked up by lawyers for the George W. Bush administration.

“What is screwy about this is the extraordinary one-sidedness and lack of objectivity by the majority of Democrats on the committee and the fact that it is being conducted in public."

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This week, the US Senate Intelligence Committee released its long-awaited congressional report detailing the CIA’s use of torture on prisoners in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and during the ensuing "global war on terror." The executive summary of the roughly 6,000-page report was finally published, exposing for the first time the panel’s findings following a four-year investigation conducted at a cost of more than $40 million.

A fraction of the full report, the 480-page executive summary contains the committee’s conclusions concerning, among other topics, the post-9/11 tactics deployed by the CIA under the administration of US President George W. Bush in an attempt to gain intelligence from suspected terrorists. In addition to waterboarding, those techniques included sleep deprivation, use of a fear of insects, holding prisoners in coffin-like boxes, threatening family members with rape or death, and rectal rehydration, among many others.

Meanwhile, another former CIA director, Michael Hayden, has defended rectal hydration of prisoners, justifying it as a “medical procedure” used “for the health of the detainee, not part of the interrogation program.”

The report revealed that at least five CIA detainees were subject to the method that was used to exhibit the agents’ “total control” over detainees. One detainee was given a “lunch tray" of “pureed” hummus, pasta with sauce, raisins, and nuts, which was then rectally infused.

“I’m not a doctor,” Hayden, CIA director from 2006 to early 2009, told CNN. “What I am told is that this is one of the ways that the body is rehydrated.”

CIA medical officers told Senate investigators, though, that rectal infusions were partially used to control detainees.

"While IV infusion is safe and effective," an officer said, "we were impressed with the ancillary effectiveness of rectal infusion."

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On Wednesday, the group Physicians for Human Rights denounced the tactic as medically unjustified and a “form of sexual assault.”

“Contrary to the CIA’s assertions, there is no clinical indication to use rectal rehydration and feeding over oral or intravenous administration of fluids and nutrients,” said Dr. Vincent Iacopino, the organization’s senior medical adviser.

“This is a form of sexual assault masquerading as medical treatment. In the absence of medical necessity, it is clear that the only purpose behind this humiliating and invasive procedure is to inflict physical and mental pain.”

The US Department of Justice has said it will not pursue charges against those involved in the interrogations, nor those officials that ordered them, adding that the report does not yield enough evidence to lead to a conviction.

The Justice Department attempted to carry out two investigations into the abuse of detainees in 2009, but concluded that the evidence was insufficient.

The Department said it looked through the report and “did not find any new information that they had not previously considered in reaching their determination,” AFP reported.

OP-EDGE: ‘CIA HQ ordered torture of prisoners, but only low-level staff may face prosecution’