THE Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon have both banned the use of waterboarding in interrogations, but a spokesman for President Bush said yesterday that Bush could still authorize its use in the future. Congress, which already passed a broadly worded ban on torture in 2006, has no choice but to specifically prohibit this technique.
White House deputy spokesman Tony Fratto made the statement that Bush still retains the right to use waterboarding after congressional testimony Tuesday by CIA Director Michael Hayden. With the approval of the president, Hayden had told Congress that his agency had used the simulated-drowning technique on three Al Qaeda suspects in 2002 and 2003. Hayden's testimony was the first official acknowledgement by the government that it had waterboarded suspects.
Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois has called on Attorney General Michael Mukasey to investigate the CIA waterboarding. Durbin has said he will delay confirmation of Mukasey's deputy until the attorney general responds to this and other issues.
In legislating an explicit ban on waterboarding, Congress should get testimony from the director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell. He recently told The New Yorker that "whether it's torture by anybody else's definition, for me it would be torture." Congress should also hear from its own Senator John McCain, the most vocal supporter on Capitol Hill of the anti-torture law, who has noted that waterboarding was used during the Spanish Inquisition and during Pol Pot's genocide in Cambodia.
In 1901 in the United States, the military court-martialed and sentenced to 10 years hard labor a US major who had waterboarded a prisoner in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. The United States officially outlawed the practice after World War II, when the Germans and Japanese had both used it against Allied troops. The Allies executed eight Japanese officers for waterboarding British prisoners and sentenced another to 15 years hard labor for waterboarding a US civilian, among other crimes.
The United Nations' Convention Against Torture prohibits any treatment of prisoners causing long-term physical or mental damage, which human-rights advocates believe includes waterboarding. The Bush administration points to the value of information provided by the Al Qaeda suspects after waterboarding, but outside analysts have questioned the validity of statements by one of the three, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
The Spanish Inquisition, Nazi Germany, militarist Japan, Pol Pot - this is the roster that Bush wants the United States to join. Congress should act to make sure that the United States does not once again stoop to using tortura del agua (water torture). That's what it was called during the Inquisition.