Ex-CIA executive director admits waterboarding is ‘torture’

© Shannon Stapleton
The most senior CIA officer on record yet has said he’s “comfortable with saying” that waterboarding and related interrogation methods were “torture.” He was commenting on the post-9/11 “enhanced interrogation” tactics used by the Bush Administration.

The remarks by former executive director of the CIA, Alvin ‘Buzzy’ Krongard (2001-2004), were made to BBC’s Panorama. The third most senior former official at the agency was asked if he thought waterboarding and related tools amounted to torture.

“Well, let's put it this way, it is meant to make him (the suspect) as uncomfortable as possible. So I assume, without getting into semantics, that's torture. I'm comfortable with saying that."

The torture debate has never let up. President Barack Obama famously put an end to torture in 2009, but failed to prosecute senior Bush-era officials for running such programs.

In the past, the position of all Bush-era officials was overwhelmingly that the euphemistically-called “enhanced interrogation” is not torture, as it was approved by the White House at the time. Those techniques included, aside from waterboarding, sleep deprivation, forcing detainees into uncomfortable physical positions, slamming them into flexible walls, as well as cramming them into small spaces, beating them physically and subjecting them to ice-cold baths.

Guantanamo Bay, which Obama has several times promised to shut down, is still operating. Panorama writes how one detainee, Abu Zubayadh, accused of being a key Al-Qaeda recruiter, has been in detention there since 2002. During these 14 years, he has regularly been stuffed into a box barely larger than a square meter, sometimes for 29 hours at a time. The person is forced to sit in a crouched position, with no room to breathe or do anything else.

Another, upright, coffin-shaped box was also used. Abu spent more than 11 days confined in that.

All the methods were taken from the CIA’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) handbook on resisting interrogation. Some of the torture methods date back to Nazi Germany.

SERE military instructor Malcolm Nance talked to Panorama, explaining how “these close confinement boxes were used by the SS… They would stuff these British and American agents into them and drive them mad.”

The practice was banned by the Geneva Conventions, but this ban didn’t prevent its use on Guantanamo Bay inmates.

A host of other methods thought to have been banned were uncovered in last December’s Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report, which dealt with the interrogation of terror suspects in secret CIA prison facilities.

According to Krongard, any intelligence extracted that the Brits found interesting and “particularly represented a threat” was shared with them by the Americans. "I can't think of two intelligence services working in a more harmonious or closer [way] and that I think, had a lot to do with the relationship at the top," he added.

When asked if he thought the British knew or approved of the interrogation methods, Krongard said: “It’s hard for me to think that they didn’t, they’re professional intelligence people, I mean obviously.”

However, when the BBC approached the Foreign Office to ask whether accepting information gathered through torture was fine, it received an adamant reply: “We do not condone it, nor do we ask others to do it on our behalf."

READ MORE: WikiLeaks: NSA spied on German FM for years, ‘helped CIA to kidnap and torture’

The results of the Senate Intelligence Committee probe were published last December. Though much of the report was redacted, it contained shocking findings about what was euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including the admission that they were ultimately ineffective.