CIA Director Confirms Details of Waterboarding

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I guess they figure the cat’s out of the bag. Last month, former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, trying to accent the positive, confirmed that the U.S. had used waterboarding, but said they hadn’t done it “in years.” Today, CIA Director Michael Hayden got more specific in a public Congressional hearing. From Reuters:

The CIA on three occasions shortly after the September 11 attacks used a widely condemned interrogation technique known as waterboarding, CIA Director Michael Hayden told Congress on Tuesday.*

“Waterboarding has been used on only three detainees,” Hayden told the Senate Intelligence Committee, publicly specifying the number of subjects and naming them for the first time, as Congress considers banning the technique.

Those subjected to waterboarding were al Qaeda suspects Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hayden said. [The CIA’s destroyed torture tapes, remember, documented the interrogations of Zubaydah and Nashiri.]

He said waterboarding has not been used in five years, but it was used then because of concerns of imminent catastrophic attacks on the United States and because authorities had limited knowledge of al Qaeda.

“The circumstances are different than they were in late 2001, early 2002,” Hayden said.

*Update: See the transcript below to see exactly what Hayden said. But I think it’s not clear that waterboarding was only used on “three occasions” as Reuters reports. Hayden said it was used on three detainees, but didn’t say exactly how many times it was used.

This information is not surprising in and of itself; these details have been reported by various outlets, citing anonymous sources. But Hayden’s testimony is part of a bid to beat back a bipartisan attempt by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), and others to pass legislation that would force the CIA’s interrogation policy to conform with the Army Field Manual. And rather than continuing to refuse to publicly discuss these issues, the administration seems to have adopted a change in tactics. Waterboarding was used only under extraordinary circumstances, Hayden’s saying. And as Attorney General Michael Mukasey disclosed last week, it’s not part of the current array of interrogation techniques deemed lawful. So it’s not worth legislating to prevent its use.

It’s a message and rationale that fits with Mukasey’s testimony before Congress last week, that you have to “balance the value of doing something against the cost of doing it.” And although Hayden seems to be stressing the uniqueness of those circumstances (in and of itself highly debatable), Mukasey clearly refused last week to declare that such circumstances will never arise again. He was, however, at pains to say that every major official from Hayden to Mukasey to the President would have to sign off on its use again.

Somehow I don’t think that all this is going to serve to diminish Congressional concern.

Update: You can read a transcript of Hayden’s comments on this below.

In the life of the CIA detention program, we have held fewer than 100 people. And actually, fewer than one-third of those people have had any techniques used against them, enhanced techniques, in the CIA program….

Let me make it very clear and to state so officially in front of this committee that waterboarding has been used on only three detainees. It was used on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It was used on Abu Zubaydah. And it was used on Nashiri.

The CIA has not used waterboarding for almost five years. We used it against these three high-value detainees because of the circumstances of the time. Very critical to those circumstances was the belief that additional catastrophic attacks against the homeland were imminent.

In addition to that, my agency and our community writ large had limited knowledge about Al Qaida and its workings. Those two realities have changed.

None of us up here are going to make the claim — and I’m sure we’ll get this question before we’re done this morning — is America safe. And we’ll answer it is safer, but it is not yet safe. So this one never gets to zero.
But the circumstances under which we are operating, we believe, are, frankly, different than they were in late 2001 and early 2002. We also have much more extensive knowledge of Al Qaida.

And I’ve told this to the committee in other sessions — our most powerful tool in questioning any detainee is our knowledge, that we are able to bring that knowledge to bear.