The Bush administration allowed CIA interrogators to use tactics that were “quite distressing, uncomfortable, even frightening,” as long as they did not cause enough severe and lasting pain to constitute illegal torture, a senior Justice Department official said last week.
In testimony before a House subcommittee, Steven G. Bradbury, the acting chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, spelled out how the administration regulated the CIA’s use of rough tactics and offered new details of how simulated drowning was used to compel disclosures by prisoners suspected of being al-Qaeda members.
The method was not, he said, like the “water torture” used during the Spanish Inquisition and by autocratic governments into the 20th century, but was subject to “strict time limits, safeguards, restrictions.” He added, “The only thing in common is, I think, the use of water.”
Bradbury indicated that no water entered the lungs of the three prisoners who were subjected to the practice, lending credence to previous accounts that the noses and mouths of CIA captives were covered in cloth or cellophane. Cellophane could pose a serious asphyxiation risk, torture experts said.
Bradbury’s unusually frank testimony Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee subcommittee stunned many civil liberties advocates and outside legal scholars who have long criticized the Bush administration’s secretive and aggressive interrogation policies.
Martin S. Lederman, a former Office of Legal Counsel official who teaches law at Georgetown University, called Bradbury’s testimony “chilling.” In an online posting, Lederman said that “to say that this is not severe physical suffering — is not torture — is absurd. And to invoke the defense that what the Spanish Inquisition did was worse and that we use a more benign, non-torture form of waterboarding . . . is obscene.” [complete article]