This Isn’t SERE’s Waterboarding, This Is CIA Waterboarding

Created: August 24, 2009 15:51 | Last updated: July 31, 2020 00:00

There has been some confusion for years over what exactly “waterboarding” has meant in practice. Does it induce the sensation of drowning? Or does it actually replicate it? The differences between the two may seem academic, but the CIA inspector general report on torture says that the way the agency practiced waterboarding was different from the way U.S. troops were taught to endure it at Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE) schools — and different from what the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel thought it was approving in mid-2002.

OIG’s [Office of the Inspector General's] review of the videotapes revealed that the waterboard technique employed at [REDACTED] was different from the technique as described in the DoJ opinion and used in the SERE training. The difference was in the manner in which the detainee’s breathing was obstructed. At the SERE School and in the DoJ opinion, the subject’s airflow is disrupted by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contest, the Agency interrogator [REDACTED] continuously applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee’s mouth and nose. One of the psychologists/interrogators acknowledged that the Agency’s use of the technique differed from that used in SERE training and explained that the Agency’s technique is different because it is “for real” and is more poignant and convincing.

As mentioned in the previous post, OIG saw 183 waterboarding applications, “most of which” lasted less than 10 seconds, presumably because when the CIA performed waterboarding, it was “too real” for someone to withstand. One of the detainees to undergo the treatment, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, said he would “make up stories” so the torture would stop, thereby defeating the ostensible intelligence-gathering purpose of the technique.

Also, chances are the “psychologist/interrogator” referred to here is either Bruce Jessen or James Mitchell, two former SERE officials who had contracts with the CIA for its “enhanced interrogation” program.

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