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.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, Law and the Courts, Terrorism, World Politics, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. laura says:

    Torturing him worked? Then why did they do it nearly two hundred times. As Steve Benen points out, quite a bit of that had to be pure sadism. The rationalization that torture gets you info you need can’t justify that much torture.

    Also, did the torture get us info we needed? Or did he make stuff up, go psychotic, exaggerate, …

    I’m not saying that KSM is innocent. However info derived from torture is suspect, highly likely to be made up and inaccurate.

    But mainly thanks for this post. it is nice to read something on a mostly Republican site that isn’t a rationalization for torture.

  2. Mike says:

    Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 (his first month in custody) alone.

    Only 183 times? Now I know why I lost my $$ betting on 185 tops. He should have been waterboarded 2794 times….

  3. Boyd says:

    So far as I’m aware, she hasn’t been waterboarded. Would we be fine with it if she had?

    Having been “tortured” myself in SERE school, I can’t say I’m too concerned about anyone being waterboarded. I’ve suffered much worse.

    *grumble* damn pantywaists *grumble*

  4. mattt says:

    Waterboarding worked? I thought the justification of “enhanced interrogation” was to save lives by obtaining timely intelligence on future attacks. If CIA was waterboarding to obtain confessions, we’re even further down the medieval rabbit hole than I thought.

    Torture works very well at obtaining confessions. As James writes, KSM eventually confessed to “everything.” How many of those plots was he actually involved in?

  5. mattt says:

    So Boyd, how would you answer James’ question? If Iran thought they had good information that Roxana Saberi wasn’t just a reporter but was snooping around for intel on their nuclear sites to help plan US strikes, and they waterboarded her 183 times in a month to find how how much she’d learned….no special concern, right?

  6. Andy Vance says:

    I’ve suffered much worse.

    It shows.

  7. Steve Hynd says:

    This is one occasion where Godwin’s Law does not hold.

    Nuremberg, particularly the Lawyer’s Trial, is the clear legal precedent. Obama is simply wrong – probably criminally so – to sweep the notion of prosecutions under the carpet.

    Regards, Steve Hynd

  8. James Joyner says:

    Having been “tortured” myself in SERE school, I can’t say I’m too concerned about anyone being waterboarded. I’ve suffered much worse.

    I’ve never been waterboarded but I’ve been sleep deprived and made to endure physical hardships as part of military training that would be illegal if applied to an enemy prisoner of war.

    But we were volunteers. And, presumably, you understood that what you were experiencing was finite and under controlled conditions by professionals who were taking every precaution to ensure you suffered no permanent damaged. KSM had so such assurances.

  9. PD Shaw says:

    I would encourage those who believe waterboarding is torture to press for passage of the law making/clarifynig this point. I believe there is a Kennedy bill that has been sitting there for at least a couple of years. Otherwise, one suspects strongly that most of this is about (a) partisan attacks on Bush, and (b) standards that shift with perceived threats.

  10. Our Paul says:

    Welcome back to the thread that died in shocked silence when the torture memos were released. This coffin needs a few more nails driven into its rotting wood before it can be laid to rest in the mausoleum that the Bush Administration built.

    The torture model commonly presented is that certain “interrogation techniques” are applied where the severity is gradually increased until a magic portal is reached, which if crossed, constitutes torture. Thus, what goes on prior to reaching the magic portal is inconsequential, and of no significance. Not so my friends, not so…

    First of all, all of us humans are subjects of the normal distribution curve. Thus the magic torture portal is not fixed in space, to be defined by a bureaucrat. It is defined by the person being interrogated; what may tipple one person over the edge, may have no effect on the other. Correspondent Boyd (April 19, 2009 | 08:19 am) proves this point, shrugging off waterboarding, and pointing to an undefined “worse”.

    Second, the linear model focuses on torture, and not on the gradual increase in the “interrogation techniques”. There would be no argument that in the absence of interrogation these techniques would constitute physical and mental abuse. Even if applied as an attempt at behavior modification in our prison system, they would be considered abusive, and indeed barbaric.

    Finally, the proof lies in the pudding. If a person starts to “spill the beans” to prevent further abusive behavior, it is hard to argue that the “enhanced interrogation technique” is not torture.

    The reaction of the Center Right on the content of these memos speaks for itself. With the exception of Rick Moran, the best folks could do was to imply that the release of the memos was timed to distract us from the significance of the tea bag brigade. But then Moran has always been somewhat of an iconoclast, at times beating the drum slowly for the strident Right, at times going completely out of step.

    I was a johnny-come-lately to the idea that the severe interrogation techniques being employed against some prisoners held by the US crossed the line of legality and constituted illegal torture. Chalk it up to excessive partisanship. Or ignorance. Or perhaps fear of going against the grain of conservative opinion in the blogosphere.

    President Obama, required by law, released these memos and then appropriately gave a pass to the men and women who operated under their legal guidelines. (my bold, OP)

    And thus stand up, a cheer and a round of applause the ACLU who under the Freedom of Information Act, and several years of litigation, managed to shake loose these memos.

    I applaud James Joiner for his opposition to torture. And I pose the same question to him, as I did to Alex Knapp. Should these individuals be placed on trial? One can argue about torture, but there is no doubt they approved barbaric abusive behavior.

  11. Bithead says:

    Torturing him worked?

    Obviously…

    But we were volunteers.

    Presumably, so were they, in that they were engaging in the acts they were.

    KSM had so such assurances.

    Nor did he deserve any James. Sorry.

  12. PD Shaw says:

    And, presumably, you understood that what you were experiencing was finite and under controlled conditions by professionals who were taking every precaution to ensure you suffered no permanent damaged. KSM had so such assurances.

    I think that’s true. Despite all of the physical ornamentation, waterboarding causes mental suffering, not physical. The mental suffering would be highly dependent on all of the circumstances.

    But, the domestic analogy is that police cadets are routinely maced and tasered during their training, so that when called to testify in a case charging excessive use of police force, they can testify that it hurts, but it goes away.

    If one wants to put the interrogators on trial, I believe most U.S. juries would be very interested in this evidence. After all, they have to decide when is something “severe” and when is it not.

  13. steve says:

    James, could you cite your source for supporting the idea that torture worked. I read about this stuff a lot, and there is much conflict. FBI sources claim they got everything out of him before the torture. There are also claims that he gave them lots of false information. If you have a definitive source it would be helpful.

    “Having been “tortured” myself in SERE school, I can’t say I’m too concerned about anyone being waterboarded. I’ve suffered much worse.”

    LOL. Let’s compare apples to apples. Let’s have you kill a bunch of, hmm, Iranis. Then we will turn you over to them for an indefinite time period. They will hate you for killing their people. Then they can waterboard you, with you not knowing if and when they will stop. There, now we have some equivalence. During SERE training, you knew it was going to end. Guys who couldnt tolerate it could wash out. I cannot remember now, but what was the policy if you were sick on the day of palnned waterboard exposure? Seems to me we had (I was a corpsman) a guy or two have his delayed due to serious illness or the usual orthopedic event.

    Steve

  14. An Interested Party says:

    The true “pantywaists” are those who have allowed 9/11 to scare them so much that they have decided to trade in their humanity for some imagined comfort that torture should be a legitimate practice of our government…

  15. A Giant Slor says:

    At least Bithead has the honesty to admit that waterboarding is torture, and that he supports torture.

  16. Tlaloc says:

    Complicating matters, though, is that torturing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed worked.

    I think there are two problems with this view-

    1) as pointed out above, we have no reason to believe any much less all of these confessions extracted under torture are legitimate. The Spanish Inquisition was very successful at getting confessions to witchcraft through torture, pity none of them were legitimate.

    2) Now that a trial will commence the defense will have to, and should succeed, at getting those confessions thrown out as the proverbial fruits of a poisoned tree. So torture ultimately hurts our ability to actually try these people.

  17. anjin-san says:

    At least Bithead has the honesty to admit that waterboarding is torture, and that he supports torture.

    He has made it clear on many occasions that he will happily live crawling away from American values if it somehow decreases the chance that he might ever die standing for them…

  18. Bithead says:

    At least Bithead has the honesty to admit that waterboarding is torture, and that he supports torture.

    I don’t care if the legal definition as torch or not. I honestly do not give a whit.

    Don’t try taking the moral, or legal high ground with me, because what happens to your moral and legal high ground if you don’t survive? What happens is your enemy gets to choose what is moral and legal, what is not.

    Somehow, that doesn’t strike me as furthering your goals. Unless, your goal is to lose thereby having your society as such destroyed.

    War is the absence of morality. Morality gets reestablished by the winners. It’s that simple, and that direct.

  19. Tlaloc says:

    Don’t try taking the moral, or legal high ground with me, because what happens to your moral and legal high ground if you don’t survive?

    So much for “give me liberty or give me death.”

    Out of curiosity, Bit, is there any belief of yours you wouldn’t sell out if I put a gun to your head? It would seem not given this statement of yours. You seem to be trying to embody the term “craven.”

  20. PD Shaw says:

    Steve

    James, could you cite your source for supporting the idea that torture worked.

    One of the best articles on the subject was written by Mark Bowden for the Atlantic. Torture is used in most of the world as part of criminal investigations. Where the information is subject to corroboration, torture has been shown to work. If the tortured individual identifies the location of the incidents of the crime (the weapon, the body, the bomb, etc.) or other actors from whom corroborating information is obtained, then one can only conclude that it worked. Bowden concluded however that its effectiveness was the problem, and its use would necessarily expand with its success.

    The problem with most of the discussions however are the assumption that the information sought is for purposes of criminal investigations, i.e. confessions. The purpose of national security interrogations is to find information that might be useful to our military or our foreign intelligence service. For interrogation be “working,” the individual needs to be talking.

  21. anjin-san says:

    because what happens to your moral and legal high ground if you don’t survive?

    I die holding true to what I believe. That is enough for me.

    I am going to tell you something about life that you have apparently gotten this far without learning. We are all ending up in the same place eventually, and it ain’t Club Med. What matters in the long run is did you live your life like a man, were you about something? (other than sniveling self-preservation, that is)

    I am sure that reflecting on that question would make you extraordinarily uncomfortable, which is why you will never do it.

  22. Matt says:

    Wow Bithead is some kind of weird super social Darwinist lol.

  23. An Interested Party says:

    Commentary about torture that is far more credible than that spewed out by some armchair warriors around here…

  24. steve says:

    PD-Thanks, I somehow missed Bowden’s article. I will need to read and compare it to Rejali’s work which traces back to the Inquisition, showing that torture has been unreliable as an info source. Many known torure regimes got their best intel more by trickery, spies and snitches. Torture certainly seems to have some efficacy as a tool of terror.

    I would still like to see specific evidence showing that KSM gave them info the FBI was unable to obtain. I still think they destroyed all the tapes because they had no positive results to show. I for one , would have ben willing to watch them. There is no part of the human body I have not seen flayed open so I find it hard to believe they would be all that awful. If they showed that torture really did work well, we should use that information to make a rational cost/benefit analysis.Clearly torture has been used by the jihadists as a recruiting issue, but if we save more lives using torture, then we should pull out of the Geneva Conventions and Torture treaties.

    Steve

  25. Bithead says:

    So much for “give me liberty or give me death.”

    So, you’re arguing that the terrorists are fighting for our liberty? Lewis Carrol couldn’t do better, I think.

    I die holding true to what I believe. That is enough for me.

    Fine.
    Nice knowing you.

    I am going to tell you something about life that you have apparently gotten this far without learning. We are all ending up in the same place eventually, and it ain’t Club Med. What matters in the long run is did you live your life like a man, were you about something? (other than sniveling self-preservation, that is)

    I am sure that reflecting on that question would make you extraordinarily uncomfortable, which is why you will never do it.

    Oh, to the contrary; That’s rather well defined. It’s called ‘freedom’. The people we’re supposed to be fighting, are demonstrabilty not fighing for that cause, rather being fighters for the removal of our freedom.

    Somehow, you coming down on the side opposing freedom for Americans doesn’t shock me at all.

  26. Bithead says:

    Wow Bithead is some kind of weird super social Darwinist lol.

    That’s an interesting notion. Certainly, what we’re talking about are natural processes, and the logical consequences of them.

  27. Our Paul says:

    The Mark Bowden article examining torture, praised by correspondent PD Shaw (April 19, 2009 | 03:47 pm) can be found here. It is chilling reading, from which I have extracted this:

    Then there are methods that, some people argue, fall short of torture. Called “torture lite,” these include sleep deprivation, exposure to heat or cold, the use of drugs to cause confusion, rough treatment (slapping, shoving, or shaking), forcing a prisoner to stand for days at a time or to sit in uncomfortable positions, and playing on his fears for himself and his family. Although excruciating for the victim, these tactics generally leave no permanent marks and do no lasting physical harm.

    The Geneva Convention makes no distinction: it bans any mistreatment of prisoners. But some nations that are otherwise committed to ending brutality have employed torture lite under what they feel are justifiable circumstances. (My bold and italics, OP).

    Andrew Sullivan, quoting from Gestapo files, in 2007 clearly pointed out the parallelism between the US approved interrogation techniques and those utilized by the Germans. To wit:

    The phrase “Verschärfte Vernehmung” is German for “enhanced interrogation”. Other translations include “intensified interrogation” or “sharpened interrogation”. It’s a phrase that appears to have been concocted in 1937, to describe a form of torture that would leave no marks, and hence save the embarrassment pre-war Nazi officials were experiencing as their wounded torture victims ended up in court. The methods, as you can see above, are indistinguishable from those described as “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the president. As you can see from the Gestapo memo, moreover, the Nazis were adamant that their “enhanced interrogation techniques” would be carefully restricted and controlled, monitored by an elite professional staff, of the kind recommended by Charles Krauthammer, and strictly reserved for certain categories of prisoner. At least, that was the original plan.

    Critics will no doubt say I am accusing the Bush administration of being Hitler. I’m not. There is no comparison between the political system in Germany in 1937 and the U.S. in 2007. What I am reporting is a simple empirical fact: the interrogation methods approved and defended by this president are not new. Many have been used in the past. The very phrase used by the president to describe torture-that-isn’t-somehow-torture – “enhanced interrogation techniques” – is a term originally coined by the Nazis. The techniques are indistinguishable. The methods were clearly understood in 1948 as war-crimes. The punishment for them was death.

    I have said it before, but I will say it again: Arguments about what constitutes torture gives credence that abusive behavior is acceptable. It is not, it is identified as a crime in the Geneva Conventions, and recognized as such in our civilian courts. That the architects of US enhanced interrogation programs should stand trial is not a mute question, it is a reality that has to be confronted.

  28. anjin-san says:

    It’s called ‘freedom’. The people we’re supposed to be fighting, are demonstrabilty not fighing for that cause,

    who is doing all this fighting for freedom? Not you skippy. You talk big, and then let others do the fighting. A real patriotic right wing action hero you are.

  29. anjin-san says:

    “give me liberty or give me death.”

    Afraid chuckes has altered this immortal slogan. His version is “oh please, oh please, don’t let Osama hurt me”. Our intrepid freedom fighter repeated this slogan many times, at great volume while Cheney was wiping his ass with the constitution.

  30. anjin-san says:

    Oh, to the contrary; That’s rather well defined. It’s called ‘freedom’. The people we’re supposed to be fighting, are demonstrably not fighing for that cause, rather being fighters for the removal of our freedom.

    Somehow, you coming down on the side opposing freedom for Americans doesn’t shock me at all.

    The caffeine is kicking in, and I am getting more insight into this statement.

    In bitsy’s world, torture is now a core American value. Oppose torture, and you are pretty much an enemy of the state. Torture = freedom. Good morning Mr. Orwell…

  31. Bithead says:

    In bitsy’s world, torture is now a core American value

    Caffeine? I doubt it, since caffeine is not known for creating anything resembling the fantasy world you’re in. I’ll give your comments all they deserve.

    (Click)

  32. Bithead says:

    Perhaps before this one goes bye bye altogether, we should make note of an apparent deception going on.

    KSM himself has stated that he was waterboarded on five seperate occasions, and of those, all of them were within his first month of captivity. He reported that each session lasted an hour and on each occasion he was subjected to the reatment a number of times. 183 is plauseable, certainly, but let’s not play this like he was removed from his cell on 183 occasions for a trip to the pool, huh?

    Even there, the numbers don’t add up to the guidelines, but that’s enough tostart you folks hunting on your own.

    Now, can anyone guess why the current administation would want to exaggerate the numbers, here? Hmmm?

  33. GM says:

    PD Shaw, well done on the research there. I’d like to know more about this Torture dot net, because, as you noted, it is the use of corroboration in which torture is most effective, ie you cannot torture a lone suspect and be able to really get much use out of them.

    Given the amount of confusion, yeah, we definitely had a scattershot mentaility after 9/11 and any information was ‘good information’ in that it could be put into a database and see what the computer could find in the way of links. Abu Ghraib was an extension of this kind of policy.

    There is definitely a grey area that I am unable to define in which you have a high value target like KSM, who is a dead man walking. I don’t think there was any kind of debate on his eventual fate. His time at guantanamo was borrowed time and he could have had some useful information. So, do we put him on trial immediately, then kill him, or do you take some time to attempt to wring some information out of him? I have trouble with that because once you start with one person, where do you set your limits?

    And there is still no information about the 2001-2004 years in which this was all going on under cover. I would definitely err on the side of pessimism, if there was truly a value to these techniques, then there would be at least some kind of positive pointing to them.

    At any rate, it’s going to be more wait and see. Obama is trying to reassure those who were directly involved that they do not risk prosecution and, I assume, to come forward with the pros and cons of what was being done.

    I don’t think we can so quickly throw out any of these techniques without a more reasoned discussion. Terrorism is an attack on liberty that must be confronted. Spouting platitudes about morality does nothing to confront the issue in an immediate way. It’s clear that, in regards to Afghanistan and the border with Pakistan, it’s very difficult to mount conventional intelligence operations.

  34. anjin-san says:

    That’s fine bit. No more needs to be said on your part, it is very clear. Your vision of America is a shining city on the hill… With a torture chamber in the basement.

    It is noteworthy that you take the work of KSM in your attack on the President. Strange bedfellows

  35. Bithead says:

    What ARE you putting in that coffee of yours, anyway?

  36. Bithead says:

    Abu Ghraib was an extension of this kind of policy.

    What kind of shoes do you need to be able to leap that far?

  37. Anderson says:

    and, well, pretty much everything

    Yes, it’s a pity we didn’t ask him what he did to Jimmy Hoffa and Judge Crater — we could’ve closed those cases.

    Re: Bowden’s article, I’m seeing the same logical error that’s so often repeated on this subject.

    Can you sometimes get valid intel from torture? Sure you can.

    The issue is whether there are OTHER methods that are BETTER and NOT EVIL. There is no reason to believe that standard interrogation methods would not have worked with KSM, but CIA had no one trained in those methods, and they weren’t inclined to listen to any advice from FBI or others.

  38. Tlaloc says:

    So, you’re arguing that the terrorists are fighting for our liberty?

    Unless you’re a terrorist you just completely missed the point. This argument was all about you and your self admitted inability to retain bladder control in the face of a threat.

  39. Our Paul says:

    PD Shaw (April 19, 2009 | 03:47 pm) seems to have set up this kind of logic tree:

    (1) Terrorist have information that our Intelligence Agencies might be able to use to prevent future terrorist acts.
    (2) Torture of terrorist provide valid information.
    (3) Therefore, torture is a valid means for obtaining information.

    To support this logic tree, he implies that Mark Bowden supports his contention #2. I am not sure what Bowden said which gave PD Shaw the keystone to his logic tree, but as pointed out in my previous comment (April 20, 2009 | 09:00 am), he did say this:

    The Geneva Convention makes no distinction: it bans any mistreatment of prisoners. But some nations that are otherwise committed to ending brutality have employed torture lite under what they feel are justifiable circumstances. (My bold and italics, OP)

    The “some nations” Bowden refers to is Israel, and a careful read of his article points to the fact that he is not enthralled with this concept of “torture lite”.

    It would be interesting to have steve (April 19, 2009 | 10:17 pm) come back, and tell us what he thought of Bowden’s article. I found the article a difficult read because of the graphic description of this type of physical and mental abuse. Bowden is a reporter, presenting both sides of a controversy. If he supported torture, assuredly he would not be presenting the graphic and gut rentching description of how it is performed.

    Meanwhile, GM (April 20, 2009 | 12:44 pm) falls into the same sink hole that has captured PD Shaw, to wit:

    I don’t think we can so quickly throw out any of these techniques without a more reasoned discussion. Terrorism is an attack on liberty that must be confronted.

    There is no “reasoned discussion”. Abuse of prisoners is prohibited by the Geneva Convention, and indeed by our Armed Forces.

    My first comment in this thread (April 19, 2009 | 12:03 pm) referred to a post and thread started by Alex Knapp. Alex was trying to take a bite out Obama through the devious route of what would be redacted when the torture memos were released. When pressed, he had this to say:

    If it can be shown that lawyers in the OLC acted contrary to the codes of professional ethics under which they should follow, then yes, I would support disciplinary action up to and including disbarment. If their actions in crafting executive branch policy is prosecutable under existing Federal laws against torture and ill-treatment of prisoners then yes, I would support their prosecution.

    No matter how much you wriggle, it is fish or cut bait time. Steve Joiner has remained silent since initiating this post. But this I can tell you, and this he cannot argue against:

    If anybody under his command during Desert Storm had engaged in what these memos approved, they would have been subject to court martial; and if he knowingly hid their behavior, he would have joined them on the docket.>