Senate Report on CIA Torture


Waterboarding, also referred to as “water torture, simulated drowning, interrupted drowning, and controlled drowning” involved forcing a detainee to lie on a “board” on his back and pouring water over a cloth covering the detainee’s face, creating a sensation of drowning. The CIA’s interrogation program used this technique widely, and detainees were often waterboarded repeatedly, in excess of the CIA’s own guidelines, drafted by the Office of Medical Services (OMS), which limited waterboarding to 20 times per week or “up to three waterboard sessions in a 24-hour period.” Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM) was waterboarded “more than 65 [times]…between the afternoon of March 12 2003, and the morning of March 13, 2003.” In total, KSM was waterboarded “at least 183 times;” at one point his treatment was described as a “series of near drownings.” 

Abu Zubaydah was “subjected to the waterboard ‘2 – 4 times a day…with multiple iterations of the watering cycle during each application.” Zubaydah eventually became so “compliant” that “when the interrogator ‘raised his eyebrow without instructions,’ [he] ‘slowly walked on his own to the water table and sat down,’” and “[w]hen the interrogator ‘snapped his fingers twice,’ Abu Zubaydah would lie flat on the waterboard.” Zubaydah was at times described as “hysterical” and “distressed to the level that he was unable to effectively communicate.” His “[w]aterboarding sessions ‘resulted in immediate fluid intake and involuntary leg, chest and arm spasms’ and ‘hysterical pleas.’” In “at least one waterboarding session, Abu Zubaydah “became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth” and required “medical intervention.” 

The CIA often downplayed the extent of waterboarding in reports to the administration, and said that it used waterboarding only after other techniques were unsuccessful. In fact, the CIA began designing an interrogation plan for Zubaydah the day he was captured, without waiting to see if he would respond to non-coercive techniques. In KSM’s case, a CIA medical officer said “[CIA] HQ was more or less demanding that [the waterboard] be used early and often.” Some CIA medical officers and other personnel raised concerns about waterboarding, which were ignored. A medical officer expressed concern that KSM was being waterboarded too frequently, and emails concerning Zubaydah’s waterboarding (the names of the senders and receivers are redacted), describes it as “visually and physically uncomfortable,” something that “profoundly affected…some to the point of tears and choking up,” and it was noted that two or three personnel would elect to be transferred if it continued. The CIA’s own records disprove its claims that waterboarding led to useful intelligence.