Vietnam, 1968: A U.S. soldier questions an enemy suspect with the help of a water-boarding technique.

Photo Courtesy United Press International

How Effective Is Water Boarding?

CIA members who've undergone water boarding as part of their training have lasted an average of 14 seconds before begging to be released. The Navy SEALs once used the technique in their counter-interrogation training, but they stopped because the trainees could not survive it without breaking, which was bad for morale. When the CIA used the water-boarding technique on al-Qaida operative and supposed "9/11 mastermind" Khalid Sheik Mohammed, he reportedly lasted more than two minutes before confessing to everything of which he was accused. Anonymous CIA sources report that Mohammed's interrogators were impressed.

Many CIA officials see water boarding as a poor interrogation method because it scares the prisoner so much you can't trust anything he tells you. Senator John McCain, who was tortured as a POW during the Vietnam War, says water boarding is definitely a form of torture. Human rights groups agree unanimously that "simulated drowning," causing the prisoner to believe he is about to die, is undoubtedly a form of psychological torture. The international community recognizes "mock executions" as a form of torture, and many place water boarding in that category. In 1947, a Japanese soldier who used water boarding against a U.S. citizen during World War II was sentenced to 15 years in U.S. prison for committing a war crime.

In September 2006, the Bush administration faced widespread criticism regarding its refusal to sign a Congressional bill outlawing the use of torture techniques against all U.S. prisoners. That same month, the U.S. Department of Defense made it illegal for any member of the U.S. military to use the water-boarding technique. The CIA and its interrogators were unaffected by that new policy, as the CIA is not a branch of the U.S. military.

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