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How CIA Officials Actually Waterboarded People

A few years ago, a pal of mine named Malcolm Nance testified to a congressional panel about how he was waterboarded. Nance used to instruct Naval Special Forces in how to resist torture, and part of their instruction was, inevitably, to undergo it themselves. Since the CIA’s contract psychologists essentially reverse-engineered that training in order to build a brutal interrogation regimen after 9/11, Nance thought members of Congress ought to know what techniques like waterboarding actually involve. “It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water,” Nance wrote in the New York Daily News. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning.

Mark Benjamin at Salon backs Nance up. Benjamin dug through some recently-disclosed CIA documents and found what waterboarding actually involved, as practiced by CIA:

Interrogators pumped detainees full of so much water that the CIA turned to a special saline solution to minimize the risk of death, the documents show. The agency used a gurney “specially designed” to tilt backwards at a perfect angle to maximize the water entering the prisoner’s nose and mouth, intensifying the sense of choking – and to be lifted upright quickly in the event that a prisoner stopped breathing.

The documents also lay out, in chilling detail, exactly what should occur in each two-hour waterboarding “session.” Interrogators were instructed to start pouring water right after a detainee exhaled, to ensure he inhaled water, not air, in his next breath. They could use their hands to “dam the runoff” and prevent water from spilling out of a detainee’s mouth. They were allowed six separate 40-second “applications” of liquid in each two-hour session – and could dump water over a detainee’s nose and mouth for a total of 12 minutes a day. Finally, to keep detainees alive even if they inhaled their own vomit during a session – a not-uncommon side effect of waterboarding – the prisoners were kept on a liquid diet. The agency recommended Ensure Plus.

This is all detailed in Abu Zubaydah’s account to the International Committee of the Red Cross of how he was tortured. But it’s one thing for a terrorist to testify to ill treatment. It’s another for CIA documentation to corroborate his account. Clearly Abu Zubaydah was drowned. As Benjamin observes, this is not the “dunking” that Dick Cheney describes. Whatever apologists like Marc Thiessen might say, the people who performed this torture knew full well that they were torturing people like Abu Zubaydah.

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