In the August 1, 2002 memo written by Bybee and Yoo, the lawyers summarize and refer repeatedly to what the CIA told them about how the “enhanced interrogation techniques” are supposed to work, as well as to assurances that the lawyers then consider material for whether the proposed actions violate U.S. laws. For instance, discussing waterboarding, they write, that water would be applied “in a controlled manner,” and that the CIA orally informed them that “this procedure triggers an automatic physiological sensation of drowning that the individual cannot control even though he may be aware that he is in fact not drowning.”
Just one problem: CIA medical personal objected to the description that OTS gave to the Justice Department as factually inaccurate.
Addressing the discrepancies between how waterboarding worked in the SERE school and how it worked at CIA and other torture techniques that changed between on-paper justification and in-the-field practice, a footnote to the inspector general’s 2004 report reads:According to the Chief, Medical Services, OMS [the CIA's Office of Medical Services] was neither consulted nor involved in the initial analysis of the risk and benefits of EITs [”enhanced interrogation techniques,” nor provided with the OTS report cited in the OLC opinion. In retrospect, based on the OLC extracts of the OTS report, OMS contends that the reported sophistication of the preliminary EIT review was probably exaggerated, at least as it related to the waterboard, and that the power of this EIT was appreciably overstated in the report. Furthermore, OMS contends that the expertise of the SERE psychologist/interrogators on the waterboard was probably misrepresented at the time, as the SERE waterboard experience is so different from the subsequent Agency usage as to make it almost irrelevant. Consequently, according to OMS, there was no a priori reason to believe that applying the waterboard with the frequency and intensity with which it was used by the psychologist/interrogators was either efficacious or medically safe.
I ask that you read that excerpt several times slowly and let it sink in. Bush, Cheney et all trusted our national security, basically our very lives, to two guys who didn't know what the hell they were doing with no evidence that what they were proposing would work. And that is notion is supported by FBI interrogator Ali Soufan, who himself pulled a lot of information out of high value Al Qa'ida detainees using traditional methods, in his testimony before Congress earlier this year.
A major problem is that it is ineffective. Al Qaeda terrorists are trained to resist torture. As shocking as these techniques are to us, the al Qaeda training prepares them for much worse – the torture they would expect to receive if caught by dictatorships for example.
This is why, as we see from the recently released Department of Justice memos on interrogation, the contractors had to keep getting authorization to use harsher and harsher methods, until they reached waterboarding and then there was nothing they could do but use that technique again and again. Abu Zubaydah had to be waterboarded 83 times and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed 183 times. In a democracy there is a glass ceiling of harsh techniques the interrogator cannot breach, and a detainee can eventually call the interrogator's bluff.
In addition the harsh techniques only serves to reinforce what the detainee has been prepared to expect if captured. This gives him a greater sense of control and predictability about his experience, and strengthens his will to resist.
A second major problem with this technique is that evidence gained from it is unreliable. There is no way to know whether the detainee is being truthful, or just speaking to either mitigate his discomfort or to deliberately provide false information. As the interrogator isn't an expert on the detainee or the subject matter, nor has he spent time going over the details of the case, the interrogator cannot easily know if the detainee is telling the truth. This unfortunately has happened and we have had problems ranging from agents chasing false leads to the disastrous case of Ibn Sheikh al-Libby who gave false information on Iraq, al Qaeda, and WMD.
A third major problem with this technique is that it is slow. It takes place over a long period of time, for example preventing the detainee from sleeping for 180 hours as the memos detail, or waterboarding 183 times in the case of KSM. When we have an alleged "ticking timebomb" scenario and need to get information quickly, we can't afford to wait that long.
Bush and Cheney ordered torture not because it would keep us safe but because it would make them feel macho. Like they were "real" men. And they put all of us at risk in the meanwhile. Anybody who claims to be concerned about terrorism and national security should be outraged about this. Unfortunately Republicans only care about their party at this point so there won't be any accountability forthcoming from their side fo the aisle.
It is what it is.