Army Official: Yes, Waterboarding Breaks International Law

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With the parade of administration officials who’ve testified about waterboarding in the past several weeks — that it was once legal, but is not anymore (though it could be found legal again); that it may “feel like” torture, but that doesn’t mean it is torture; that as the U.S. practices it, it bears no relation to the technique used by the Spanish Inquisition (it’s more in line with the Khmer Rouge way of doing things) — you can be excused for feeling more than a little confused.

And you may have despaired of ever seeing a clear, unequivocal exchange on the topic with a government official. Like this one from today’s hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, with Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency:

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) asked, “General, do you believe that waterboarding is consistent with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions?”

After pausing a moment to think, Maples replied, “No, sir, I don’t.”

“Do you think it’s humane?” Levin asked.

“No, sir, I think it would go beyond that bound.”

Later, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), apparently uncomfortable with the deceptive simplicity of that exchange, added some much needed context, pointing out that CIA interrogators had waterboarded detainees “only three times,” and that they had done so before the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the Geneva Conventions must apply.

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