The debate over the “ethics and usefulness of waterboarding” just received some new fuel, said Liam Stack in The Christian Science Monitor. A May 2005 memo says the CIA used the controversial interrogation technique, which makes people feel like they’re drowning, on two al Qaida suspects a combined 266 times, The New York Times reported. The “sheer frequency” raises new questions about the Bush administration’s handling of war-on-terror detainees.
This answers the question that matters most, said Emily Bazelon in Slate. How could the U.S. have resorted to torture? Detainee Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times—against the recommendation of the on-scene interrogation team, who believed he had told what he knew—because "the people ordering the torture didn't care how much pain they inflicted for how little gain. Efficacy, humanity"—it was all beside the point.
Nonsense, said David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey in The Wall Street Journal. Efficacy—and staying within acceptable boundaries—was precisely what the Bush administration was striving for. The memos make it plain that the techniques were meant "to inflict psychological uncertainty, not physical pain"—most of the waterboarding sessions lasted just 20 seconds. The interrogations, while harsh, fell far short of torture, and unquestionably yielded a lot of useful intelligence.