Tuesday, 21 April 2009

183 times 24

For those not familiar with the term, 'waterboarding' is a technique used in interrogations, where a person is held down or strapped to a board, a towel is wrapped around their head, and water is poured onto the towel. It is described as 'simulated drowning', and differs from actual drowning in that the victim is, in most cases, kept alive. The Spanish inquisition used waterboarding. Japanese who used it against Americans in WW2 were convicted of war crimes. It is almost universally accepted that waterboarding is torture. Only the Bush administration used euphemisms such as 'enhanced interrogation techniques' to describe it and other, even worse, practices.

The Justification given by former Bush administration officials such as Dick Cheney was that waterboarding was necessary in order to avert immediate terrorist threats. This is the so-called '24' scenario, named after the American TV show, in which it regularly happens that terrorist plots are thwarted by police use of 'enhanced interrogation techniques'. It is also known as the 'ticking bomb' scenario. Torture is bad, yes, but can’t it be justified if a bomb is ticking and the use of torture will save thousands of lives?

I’m trying to reconcile this scenario with the newly released documents in the US which show that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged al Qaeda number 2 and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was waterboarded by the CIA 183 times in just one month, March 2003. The only conclusion I can arrive at is that there must have been 183 ticking bombs that month, and Khalid spilled the beans on each of those plots, just in time for the interrogators to avert the crisis and move on to the next one. Or am I missing something?

Change the world.

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