Today, the former U.S. intelligence chief confirmed that the United States used the technique known as waterboarding in interrogations. While John Negroponte was likely trying to get the word out that the Bush Administration no longer engages in this form of torture, the admission that it was used in the past is significant, particularly because President Bush has repeatedly said that the United States does not torture. (For more on the legal and medical reasons why waterboarding is a form of torture see the Human Rights First and Physicians for Human Rights report on the subject here. For the history of how the United States used to prosecute waterboarding as a war crime see Judge Evan Wallach’s history, here.)
Negroponte’s comments mark the first time a high-ranking Administration official has gone on record to confirm that this torture technique was used by the U.S. (While Vice President Cheney said that dunking a terrorist suspect in water would be a “no-brainer“, the White House later denied that Cheney was in fact talking about waterboarding.)
Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who has repeatedly declined to say that waterboarding is a form of torture, is scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill on Wednesday and Negroponte’s comments that the U.S. no longer engages in this particular technique are likely an attempt to take some of the heat off of him, particularly since Senate Democrats have made it clear that waterboarding is a subject they are eager to question Mukasey on.
Unfortunately, the Bush Administration’s torture problem goes beyond waterboarding. Other so-called “enhanced” interrogation techniques also violate U.S. law and treaty obligations. On Wednesday, Americans will be listening to hear whether Mukasey disavows all of them, not simply the apparently no-longer-in-use technique of waterboarding.