Admiral Michael McConnell is the director of national intelligence, and yesterday he discussed waterboarding in a very candid fashion at a symposium at Johns Hopkins University (HT: WeeklyStandard.com):
DR. DAVID: Let me talk about torture. Is waterboarding a form of torture? Is it an effective means of extracting information? If it is a form of torture or if it is not an effective means of extracting information, why will not the Intelligence Community, the CIA foreswear its use?
DIRECTOR McCONNELL: Let’s take it from the beginning. Has waterboarding ever been used by a professional organization whose mission is to extract information? The answer is yes. You might ask what are the circumstances? Three times. Situations where there’s been interrogation over a period of time. It was unsuccessful. Water boarding was used and then information started to flow.
Just to put it in context, probably upwards of a quarter to a third of all the information generated in this period of time came from these three individuals. It’s saved lives.
I would be willing to say it’s saved lives for some of the people who know, of people who are known to people in this room. So you’ve got to ask yourself the question, is it worth it?
Now here’s the problem for America. We have a political system that will define the bounds. This community, will always operate inside those bounds. Now what the image, particularly across the country, the image is Abu Ghraib. It was an abhorrent situation where some youngsters got out of control and did some terrible things, made photographs, and they are suffering the penalty or the punishment for having done that. That’s what people think about when they say torture.
We went through a long debate about how to do this consistent with the Geneva Convention and so on. Laws were passed. And we agreed upon an Army Field Manual for how interrogations will be conducted by the U.S. military. That in fact is where we are.
Now think of the Army Field Manual is about like this. Think of the law is about like that. So the question is, if it’s legal within the law, do you want to keep those techniques available in a situation where it might save lives, particularly if it were weapons of mass destruction?
Now add one other thing. Those three interrogations with waterboarding were hardened criminals. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Go to the web site, look up KSM, read about him. It was his intent to repeat 9/11 many times over and he would not speak with us. Also in the timeframe, this happened in 2002, might have gone to 2003, I just don’t remember, but 2002 timeframe. We didn’t know much about al-Qaida. This was a period of time when we just did not have information, understanding and so on. Have we used it since that time? No. The President gave us a list of techniques. Is it in that list of techniques? No. If we needed to use it, what would happen? We would have to ask, first the Agency would have to ask me, I’d have to agree or disagree. Then it would have to go to the Attorney General. The Attorney General would have to make a ruling, legal or not. Then we’d have to go to the President and get permission. Once that happened, you have to go notify the Congress.
So the way I think about it is we will abide by the laws of the nation. The laws right now are this size. The Army Field Manual is this size. So do we want to take all those options away and move them down to something smaller? That’s a decision for the nation. If the nation does it, we will comply. If the nation leaves that larger body of techniques open, then we’ll use every technique available to us given it would prevent a horrendous attack on the United States.
DR. DAVID: Again, just to clarify, if you felt the situation warranted it, you would us waterboarding, and you do believe in certain situations it’s effective and the only way of extracting information.
DIRECTOR McCONNELL: Were you listening?
DR. DAVID: Yeah, I listened to every word.
DIRECTOR McCONNELL: Well, I said it’s not in our list of techniques. If we decided we needed it we would go through a procedure to get permission and we would go notify the Congress.
So if it’s not illegal and it would prevent an attack on a city that would save hundreds, thousands of lives, would we use it? I would certainly be persuaded in that direction, given that the Attorney General verified it’s a legal technique.
Does it work? Yes, it works.