Justice Dept. Official: CIA Waterboarding Was Subject to “Strict Limitations”

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The CIA’s use of waterboarding was legal and not torture, a Justice Deparment official argued this morning, because it was a “procedure subject to strict limitations and safeguards” that made it substantially different from historical uses of the technique by the Japanese and the Spanish Inquisition.

Steven Bradbury, the Justice Department official who heads up the Office of Legal Counsel, is testifying before a House Judiciary subcommittee this morning. And he made an unexpected argument when Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) asked him whether waterboarding violated the law against torture.

It did not, he said. And he argued that what the CIA did bears “no resemblance” to what torturers in time past have done. “There’s been a lot of discussion in the public about historical uses of waterboarding,” he said. But the “only thing in common is the use of water,” he said. Here’s video:

The Spanish and Japanese use of “water torture,” he said, “involved the forced consumption of a mass amount of water.” Asked by a Republican whether Bradbury was aware of any “modern use” of waterboarding that involved the “lungs filling with water,” Bradbury said no.

The Japanese forced the ingestion of so much water that it was “beyond the capacity of the victim’s stomach.” Weight or pressure was then applied by standing or jumping on the stomach of the victim, sometimes leading to “blood coming of the victim’s mouth.” The Spanish Inquisition would use the technique to the point of “agony or death.”

But the CIA wasn’t doing that, he argued. “Strict time limits” were involved — presumably governing the length of time that interrogators could induce the sensation of drowning. There were “safeguards” and “restrictions” that made it a much more controlled procedure. Because of that, he said, the technique did not amount to torture.

But Bradbury said that subsequent laws and Supreme Court decisions passed in 2005 and 2006 had changed his office’s analysis, and in 2006 the CIA removed waterboarding from its authorized battery of interrogation techniques.

Update: Once again, here’s former Navy instructor describing the technique of waterboarding, and here’s a video demonstration.