The debate over the effectiveness of subjecting detainees to psychological and physical pressure is in some ways irresolvable, because it is impossible to know whether less coercive methods would have achieved the same result. But for defenders of waterboarding, the evidence is clear: Mohammed cooperated, and to an extraordinary extent, only when his spirit was broken in the month after his capture March 1, 2003, as the inspector general’s report and other documents released this week indicate.
Over a few weeks, he was subjected to an escalating series of coercive methods, culminating in 7 1/2 days of sleep deprivation, while diapered and shackled, and 183 instances of waterboarding. After the month-long torment, he was never waterboarded again.
“What do you think changed KSM’s mind?” one former senior intelligence official said this week after being asked about the effect of waterboarding. “Of course it began with that.” [continued…]
Editor’s Comment — As Khalid Sheik Mohammed sits in his Guatanamo cell studying the Bible, Dick Cheney would have us believe that the turning point in his detention came when his will was broken by the unbearable stress provoked by his fear of drowning.
To those who buy the morally eviscerated argument that when it comes to torture, the ends justify the means, Mohammed’s case provides the causal clincher: “an avowed and truculent enemy of the United States” got waterboarded and was transformed into the CIA’s “preeminent source” on al-Qaeda. Waterboarding was for the intelligence operative no less powerful than alchemy.
But where’s the actual proof that Mohammed’s apparent change of heart was really the effect of his being tortured?
The one piece of common knowledge that captives and captors share (assuming that the captive does actually know something) is that the captive’s most valuable asset is time. The longer he can hold out, the less his intelligence is worth. By the time KSM “broke”, for all we know the breaking point had little to do with whether waterboarding bout 184 seemed unimaginably less tolerable than the preceding 183 instances; it might simply have marked the point in time at which KSM decided he had bought his collaborators as much time as they could effectively employ in their furious efforts at damage control that must have followed his capture.