There have been plenty of links over the weekend to this ABC News story, which is generally interpreted as saying that waterboarding was only ever used, very briefly, on three detainees, and that its use was discontinued way back in 2003. (I’m not sure why this is being treated as a novel disclosure: NBC had the same story back in September.) If true, that’s heartening news—and, one would think, pretty good evidence that we can get along pretty well without this repellent tactic. Even assuming it yields only good information, after all, if the toughest of the bunch cracked after two minutes, isn’t it reasonable to suppose that the same information have been gotten by more conventional, less abhorrent methods given a little more time? (I note no indication that any of these involved the beloved “ticking time bomb” scenario.)
The various claims made in defense of waterboarding can’t all be true simultaneously. It seems awfully strained to argue that, on the one hand, waterboarding isn’t really all that bad—certainly not torture!—but on the other hand, it’s absolutely necessary, because ordinary interrogation techniques are impotent to extract the sort of information waterboarding yields in mere minutes. Conversely, if you want to argue that critics should stop harping on waterboarding since it hasn’t been used in years, and was extremely rare even when it was an approved method, then it seems you should similarly regard the vigorous championing of the tactic by pundits and GOP candidates as a lot of macho posing with little relation to the real needs of our interrogators, who appear to be able to have been able to do their jobs without cribbing from Khmer Rouge manuals.