In his confirmation hearings as attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr. gave misleading testimony about waterboarding.
Asked for his views on the coercive interrogation technique, Holder said, “If you look at the history of the use of that technique, we prosecuted our own soldiers for using it in Vietnam . . . waterboarding is torture.”
One soldier was indeed court-martialed in 1968, but what Holder left out was the reason: The military is not authorized to engage in waterboarding, and the individual who was waterboarded was a North Vietnamese soldier. Under the Geneva Conventions, the U.S. would have had no legal right to subject the individual to coercive interrogation.
In contrast, the three terrorists that the CIA waterboarded were not soldiers in uniform, and therefore were not covered by the Geneva Conventions. In addition, the CIA officers who engaged in waterboarding were not rogues who took it upon themselves to use waterboarding. They were authorized to do so by the CIA director, the Justice Department, and the president.
As the interrogations of detained terrorists progressed, the CIA briefed the chairs, ranking members, and majority and minority staff directors of the House and Senate intelligence committees on the details of the procedures used.
Aside from the legalities, the CIA does not believe outright torture produces reliable results and has never used it. Scaring prisoners with waterboarding is another matter. Waterboarding led to a takedown of key al-Qaida operatives when they were planning more attacks. If waterboarding really were torture, the military would not use it on its own special forces as part of their training in case they are waterboarded after being captured.
Many well-intentioned people, including Sen. John McCain, have described waterboarding as torture. But as defined by the dictionary, torture is infliction of pain. As used by the CIA, waterboarding entailed placing a cloth over the face of the subject and pouring water over the cloth. The technique creates the sensation of drowning and therefore fear, but it is painless. The individual awakes the next morning feeling just fine.
While saying he opposes aggressive interrogation, even McCain has acknowledged that in extremis a president might have to approve it. Apparently, President Obama has come to the same conclusion.
According to The Associated Press, Obama is considering requiring the CIA to use interrogation techniques specified by the “U.S. Army Field Manual” while amending the manual with a classified section that would allow the president to authorize techniques not allowed by the military regulations. In fact, since terrorists now know they will not be drowned, it is unlikely the CIA will want to use waterboading again. The CIA has not used it since 2003.
If Holder’s statement about waterboarding was misleading, his defense of President Clinton’s clemency for members of the FALN was even less impressive. Holder said the 16 members of the Puerto Rican nationalist group were convicted of conspiracy and bomb making rather than the actual bombings. By Holder’s standard, Terry Nichols, the Oklahoma City bomber, would now be free.
Overall, Holder has a good reputation in Washington. He will easily be confirmed. But given his testimony, his decisions will bear careful scrutiny.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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