Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Laughed Off Waterboarding

Marc Thiessen claims Khalid Sheikh Mohammad mocked the CIA interrogators who waterboarded him.

A former Bush Administration speech writer reveals that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad mocked the CIA interrogators who waterboarded him:

A former speech writer for President George W. Bush said Monday that confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed mocked his CIA interrogators during his March 2003 waterboarding sessions by using his fingers to tick off the number of seconds he would be subjected to near drowning.

“He was communicating to his interrogators that he was on to them,” Marc Thiessen said during a panel discussion on what role harsh interrogation tactics might have played in developing the intelligence that led to Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

A CIA spokesman declined to comment on the record about the report, and there was no independent verification of Thiessen’s account. Mohammed’s lawyer also declined to comment.

Thiessen said Monday that Mohammed knew that agents had to relent after 40 seconds, something he may have divined after undergoing the procedure repeatedly.

A different 2005 Justice Department memo noted in a footnote that “after multiple applications of the waterboard, it may become apparent to the detainee that, however frightening the experience may be, it will not result in death.” In another footnote, the memo quoted the CIA’s Office of Medical Services as saying that “some subjects unquestionably can withstand a large number” of waterboard applications.
This report is reminiscent of the 2009 revelation, swept under the rug by many torture advocates, that KSM was apparently lying during many of the waterboarding induced interrogation sessions:

Self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed told U.S. military officials that he had lied to the CIA after being abused, according to documents made public Monday. The claim is likely to intensify the debate over whether harsh interrogation techniques generated accurate information.

Mohammed made the assertion during hearings at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was transferred in 2006 after being held at secret CIA sites since his capture in 2003.


“I make up stories,” Mohammed said, describing in broken English an interrogation probably administered by the CIA concerning the whereabouts of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. “Where is he? I don’t know. Then, he torture me,” Mohammed said of his interrogator. “Then I said, ‘Yes, he is in this area.’ ”

Mohammed also appeared to say that he had fingered people he did not know as being Al Qaeda members in order to avoid abusive treatment. Although there is no way to corroborate his statements, Mohammed is one of the militants whom the CIA repeatedly subjected to the simulated-drowning technique known as waterboarding

And, of course, there’s the fact that none of the actual intelligence that led to Osama bin Laden came from suspects who had been waterboarded:

In a letter disclosed Monday, CIA Director Leon Panetta told McCain that detainees subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques” did provide information that helped lead to bin Laden, but solely by lying.

“Some detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques attempted to provide false or misleading information about the facilitator/courier” with whom bin Laden was found, Panetta wrote. “These attempts to falsify the facilitator/courier’s role were alerting,” the CIA director added.

In other words, the people we had tortured lied despite that fact, and it was only because of information we obtained by other means that we knew they were lying about something significant.


FILED UNDER: Intelligence, National Security, Terrorism, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. CB says:

    but since he laughed off the ‘torture’, obviously we havent gone far enough. i suggest bamboo shoots under the finger nails next.

  2. jwest says:

    That pretty much blows the “torture” meme.

    Are you going to start a new thread dedicated to liberals (and pseudo-libertarians) apologizing for mischaracterizing this practice that seems more akin to tickling?

  3. No, it doesn’t blow the “torture” meme. It blows the “torture works” argument out of the water.

  4. Alex Knapp says:


    You can be trained to resist torture. In fact, we train our own Special Forces to withstand torture. One of the techniques is, in fact, laughing it off.

    For a cinematic example, see the torture scene in Casino Royale and James Bond’s reaction to it.

  5. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Well, given that KSM melted down like a liberal trying to grasp reality I’d say his putative “laughter” was akin to a punch-drunk boxer laughing off being knocked out cold.

    On the other hand, and as long known in military circles, waterboarding is not really all that harsh in the greater scheme of things. That leads to the obvious conclusion (obvious, of course, to anyone other than a liberal idiot): We should be using much harsher techniques of information gathering on subhuman scum such as KSM and friends. QED.

  6. CB says:

    wow…and i was being facetious…

  7. michael reynolds says:


    You underestimate the scumminess of which a “conservative” is capable.

  8. anjin-san says:

    I am not dismissesssing the possibility that ksm was laughing directly at jwest and bithead.

  9. CB says:

    ‘conservative’ is right. i know conservatives. and any real conservative should be aghast at the rationalization of torture, something which is supposed to be anathema to the american way. (and for the record, i HATE invoking ‘our founding principles’ or ‘the will of the people’, but in this case it is absolutely true that oppostion to torture is woven into the fabric of our liberal democracy)

    and yes, you idiots, waterboarding is torture.

  10. Wiley Stoner says:

    If you honestly think this guy laughed off being waterboarded, you should take escape and evasion training in the military. Let us be glad most of you lib wusses are not in charge of security of this nation as if you were, we would cease to be a nation of free men. People like Mataconis keep writing about things they have no clue. I know torture does not work. Well you explain to me by what means KSM gave up his men, his leader and his plans considering he would gladly give his life for them? Something none of you understand. More than just a few have stated enhanced tecniques worked. I will state here again and again. Only and idiot or a fool considers waterboarding torture.

  11. CB says:

    and i realize im not really breaking new ground here, but could it be any more clear that torture advocates care only about justifying torture for political reasons, whether its to carry water for the neocons or simply to beat democrats over the head with a ‘soft on terror charge’? is that out of line? because i fail to see how, given the evidence, one can truly believe that ‘enhanced interrogation’ yields favorable results, especially when time and again it has been demonstrated that the same information can be gleaned from ‘normal’ interrogation.

  12. Ben Wolf says:

    @Wile E. Coyote,

    I’m a liberal, and I was in uniform while you were thinking up the criteria for who is and is not pretty enough to rape.

    You’ve probably got a yellow ribbon somewhere to prove your patriot cred, but it merely reveals the color of your spine, chickenhawk.

  13. jwest says:

    The argument of whether liberals are born incredibly naïve or if it is a lifestyle choice will continue.

  14. john personna says:

    jwest, let me help you understand.

    Torture is terrifying if-and-when the victim thinks the damage will be irreparable or lead to death. Water-boarding is near-drowning. And you know, in another thread I mentioned that a big difference between doing it in training and doing it for real was that the recruit in training had a high confidence that no one was trying to kill him.

    What KSM figured out was that no one was trying to damage him, or kill him, for real.

    So where does that leave you, in your “torture” arguments? Do you think we should just keep playing the game, and hope that future terrorists don’t figure it out? Or are you asking to step it up, and actually bring damage and death into the equation?

    (I think this was torture, because we were trying to convince the terrorists that they were about to die. It’s not non-torture suddenly, for those, and only those, who figure the limits.)

  15. anjin-san says:

    That this is even a discussion (a discussion with nitwits representing the right, but a discussion nonetheless) has me asking myself if bin laden succeeded in destroying America on 9.11.

    Torture works! We must torture!

    My God, how lost we have become.

  16. john personna says:

    anjin, we are certainly not the tough-guys of my dad’s generation.

  17. Hey Norm says:

    I’m sure after a few times he figured it out, much less 183 times. I had a hemorrhoid once that hung around for 183 days. After a while you can get used to almost anything.
    My only question is why anyone would take anything Mark Thiessen says seriously. Criminy…you might as well ask JWest, or Wiley, or Austin, or Eric what they think for all the bearing it has on reality.

  18. CB says:

    yeah, its naive to think that a blatantly-detrimental-to-our-objectives tactic should be discarded. its even more naive to believe that even though we can get the same information from humane interrogation, and not, you know, shit all over what we stand for, we should use torture.

    keep telling us how stupid teh libruls are.

  19. mattb says:

    My only question is why anyone would take anything Mark Thiessen says seriously.

    You beat me to it.

  20. Scott O. says:

    Once upon a time all it took was 1 waterboarding session of 30 to 35 seconds to get all the information we could ever want. Or so we were told.—waterboarding—canada-s-history

  21. MM says:

    I have no reason to believe that this is accurate until Matc Theissen is waterboarded 183 times as proof of concept.