Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Waterboarded 183 Times
Marcy Wheeler picks an interesting factoid out of the “Bradford memo,” one of several documents detailing the interogation techniques used by the U.S. intelligence community released last week by the Obama administration: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 (his first month in custody) alone.
As noted repeatedly on this site and others over the years, waterboarding is torture. It’s easily the most extreme of the techniques used by the United States during the period in question. The CIA banned waterboarding in 2007 and the practice had been out of use for some years by then. Complicating matters, though, is that torturing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed worked. He ultimately confessed to planning the 9/11 attacks and, well, pretty much everything. The preliminary stages of a trial are now underway, six years after he was captured.
Meanwhile, Scott Shane wonders,”Why has torture long been singled out for special condemnation in the law of war, when war brings death and suffering on a scale that dwarfs the torture chamber?” He quotes an anonymous CIA official as saying, “Imagine a Hellfire missile coming through your roof. You die in a burning pile of rubble. Isn’t that torture?”
Not according to the CONVENTION AGAINST TORTURE and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment:
For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
Killing combatants in a war — and even killing noncombatants as “collateral damage” in that endeavor — is covered under different provisions of the law of war. The most obvious reason why they’re treated differently is that combatants are at large and able to do harm whereas torture victims are, by definition, in your custody and under your control.
In related news, Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi has been convicted and sentenced to eight years on charges of spying in Iran. So far as I’m aware, she hasn’t been waterboarded. Would we be fine with it if she had?
Sketch: Janet Hamlin for AP.