Waterboarding: Not So Illegal After All?

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Yesterday I wrote about the minor firestorm that reignited over waterboarding in recent days, thanks to CIA director Michael Hayden’s Tuesday testimony that his agency waterboarded three al Qaeda members in 2002 and 2003. The White House authorized that particular disclosure; I wonder if they authorized this? Speaking to the House Intelligence Committee yesterday, Hayden said the people who performed the torture were not necessarily trained CIA operatives, but instead unspecified outside contractors:

REP. SCHAKOWSKY (D-IL): Are contractors involved in CIA detention interrogation programs?

GEN. HAYDEN: Absolutely.

REP. SCHAKOWSKY: Were contractors involved in the waterboarding of al Qaeda detainees?

GEN. HAYDEN: I’m not sure of the specifics. I’ll give you a tentative answer: I believe so.

This new wrinkle might explain the apparent confusion among the relevant government agencies over whether or not waterboarding is legal. (By today’s tally, White House says yes, Hayden says no, and Mukasey remains noncommittal.) After all, what’s illegal for the government isn’t necessarily illegal for contractors. We already contract out a good deal of the war, so why not add torture to the mix and save ourselves the legal headache? Maybe this was what White House spokesman Tony Fratto meant when he said that we might still use waterboarding “under certain circumstances.” Then again, maybe it’s simply anybody’s guess.

—Casey Miner

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate