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Mukasey Nomination Intensifies Debate on Waterboarding

A House panel heard testimony Thursday on the controversial interrogation technique of waterboarding, which simulates the experience of drowning. A former Navy instructor and an intelligence expert discuss the legality and effectiveness of the procedure.

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    The issue of waterboarding returned to Capitol Hill today, as a House Judiciary Subcommittee heard testimony about the controversial interrogation technique.

    REP. TRENT FRANKS (R), Arizona: If there was ever a time for harsh tactics, it should be when we are using them to defend against attacks by bloodthirsty terrorists who are trying to kill and maim thousands of innocent Americans.

    REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), New York: If these techniques, beyond the Army Field Manual, are not necessary and ineffective, they're ineffective, why is the administration — why does anybody want to do this?


    The committee heard from witnesses including Malcolm Nance, a counterterrorism intelligence specialist who has experienced waterboarding and has also performed it on American soldiers undergoing training.

    SR. CPO. MALCOLM NANCE (Ret.), Former Naval Instructor: Waterboarding is a terrifying, painful and humiliating tool that leaves no physical scars and which can be repeatedly used as an intimidation tool. Waterboarding has the ability to make the subject answer any question with a truth, a half-truth, or outright lie in order to stop the procedure. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not a simulation of drowning. It is drowning.


    So Colonel Couch's chair remains empty today.


    Missing from the hearing was anyone who advocated the use of waterboarding. The witness representing the Defense Department, Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch, was ordered not to testify. He's a sitting judge in pending terror cases.

    But some committee Republicans maintained that, in a few cases, the technique saved lives.


    Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, I use the example, when the interrogators used severe interrogation, he began to reveal information after being quiet for months that helped authorities — let me just repeat myself — arrest at least six major terrorists.


    It's been reported that the CIA has used waterboarding in carrying out the Bush administration's war on terror. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the lead planner of the September 11th attacks, was allegedly subjected to it.

    Waterboarding dates back to the Spanish Inquisition. The subject of interrogation is laid down at an angle so the head is below the feet, a cloth is applied tightly to the face, and water is poured over their mouth and into the nose, causing the lungs to slowly fill with water. The technique is now banned by international conventions against torture and by the U.S. military, as well.

    Waterboarding has grabbed headlines recently after the president's nominee for attorney general, Michael Mukasey, refused to say whether the technique constitutes torture before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

    SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), Rhode Island: So is waterboarding constitutional?

  • MICHAEL MUKASEY, U.S. Attorney General-Designate:

    I don't know what's involved in the technique. If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional.


    If it's torture? That's a massive hedge. I mean, it either is or it isn't.


    His testimony also sparked a waterboarding re-enactment.


    It is not an "enhanced interrogation technique." It is torture.


    No, no, no, please…


    On Monday, protesters gathered outside the U.S. Department of Justice to demonstrate the technique. They branded it torture that the U.S. government "passively condones."

    For more on all of this, we get two views. Former Senior Chief Petty Officer Malcolm Nance, who you just saw testifying before Congress, was a Navy instructor who trained SEALs to deal with waterboarding and other hostile interrogation techniques. He's now with a consulting company that does work for the U.S. government.

    And Neil Livingstone, CEO of Executive Action, a risk management firm that consults for private businesses and the U.S. government on security and terrorism matters, he's written extensively on terrorism, intelligence, and national security issues.