They said yes, and yes again.
That was the point. That was the whole idea.
The interrogators from the CIA would describe what they wanted to do, or had already done, to certain prisoners in their control, and at the "Justice" Department, a handful of lawyers would find a way to declare that whatever the interrogators had done, or were about to do, to those prisoners was just fine.
No problem. Even when it was torture.
Especially when it was torture. That was the whole idea.
The memoranda are public now, with only a few words missing, and the calculation perfectly -- chillingly -- intact. Here are the interrogation "techniques" -- sleep deprivation and dietary manipulation, the facial hold and the abdominal slap, stress positions and cramped confinement and "walling" and water dousing and waterboarding.
"This effort plus the cloth produces the perception of 'suffocation and incipient panic,' i.e., the perception of drowning. The individual does not breathe any water into his lungs. During those 20 to 40 seconds, water is continuously applied from a height of 12 to 24 inches...The sensation of drowning is immediately relieved by the removal of the cloth. The procedure may then be repeated."
Note the wonderful precision -- the water falling no farther than 24 inches to the victim's nose and mouth, the "perception of drowning" lasting no longer than 40 seconds each time. There were similar touches decorating -- masking -- other techniques. The interrogator administering the abdominal slap "must have no rings or other jewelry on his hand." The cold water poured on the detainee in the water dousing "must be potable, and the interrogators must ensure that water does not enter the detainee's nose, mouth, or eyes."
Considerate to a fault, don't you think? Call it pseudo-science. The artifice of concern.
"Although the subject may experience the fear or panic associated with the feeling of drowning, the waterboard does not inflict physical pain....Although the waterboard constitutes a threat of imminent death, prolonged mental harm must nonetheless result to violate the statutory prohibition [on] infliction of severe mental pain or suffering....Indeed, you have advised us that the relief is almost immediate when the cloth is removed from the nose and mouth. In the absence of prolonged mental harm, no severe mental pain or suffering would have been inflicted, and the use of these procedures would not constitute torture within the meaning of the statute."
Were they prepared to call it torture if that "threat of imminent death" had lasted 50 seconds? A full minute? Would it have been torture if the abdominal slap had left a jewelry scratch? If the water for the water dousing had been less than drinkable? If the walls the prisoners were slammed into over and over again had been more solidly constructed?
Not a chance.
Nothing was ever going to be over the line -- because there was no line. Or rather, because whatever line there was could be easily moved to a point just beyond whatever it was the interrogators wanted to do.
Chalk it up to investigative zeal, to understandable fear of further attacks, to lawyers -- and their bosses -- run amok. Blame it on arrogance, or frustration, or rage, or vengeance plain and simple. How else to explain waterboarding Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August of 2002 alone? Or waterboarding Khalid Shaikh Mohammed 183 times just in March of 2003? If this isn't behavior that "shocks the conscience," it's only because the people who consistently approved it and excused it and applied it had put their consciences in a lockbox.
And the rest of us?
If the rest of us are to live with ourselves, if we're to regain our own consciences, our own souls, first we have to see it for what it was, and call it by its rightful name, this terrible thing that was done in our name.
It was torture.
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at email@example.com.