Correspondents in Washington | February 07, 2008
THE CIA director has admitted his agency subjected three suspected al-Qa'ida terrorists to waterboarding but denied the tactic has been used in the past five years.
General Michael Hayden's comments before a Senate committee yesterday were the first time a Bush administration official had confirmed publicly that the CIA had subjected terror suspects to waterboarding.
General Hayden said waterboarding was used on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US, Abu Zubayda, allegedly an aide to Osama bin Laden, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of commanding the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.
"Let me make it very clear and to state so officially in front of this committee that waterboarding has been used on only three detainees," he told the Senate intelligence committee.
General Hayden said the trio were subjected to the technique, which involves pouring water over the mouth and noise to give the sensation of drowning, while they were in secret CIA custody and when intelligence officials knew little about al-Qa'ida and feared more attacks.
"Those two realities have changed," he said.
President George W.Bush's authorisation of waterboarding as one of a number of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques that could be employed against al-Qa'ida suspects has been controversial since it was revealed three years ago.
The technique has long been considered torture by international legal organisations.
Congress is considering banning the CIA from using it. The army manual on interrogation prohibits its use by the military.
It was the second major revelation from General Hayden in two months about the treatment of suspected terrorists while the CIA held them secretly. On December 6, he told CIA employees that videotapes of Abu Zubayda's interrogation had been destroyed.
The international advocacy group Human Rights Watch said waterboarding was torture and a violation of the War Crimes Act and the federal anti-torture law.
"General Hayden's acknowledgment that the CIA subjected three detainees to waterboarding is an explicit admission of criminal activity," said Joanne Mariner, the group's terrorism and counter-terrorism director.
"Those who authorised these crimes have to be held accountable."
General Hayden said waterboarding had not been used in nearly five years, and that other so-called enhanced techniques had been used on "fewer than one-third" of the "fewer than 100" people the CIA has held since September 2001. He said that although the techniques went beyond what was allowed in the army manual, the Attorney-General had certified them as legal for the CIA. The use of waterboarding would require the agreement of the President and Attorney-General, he said.
His comments came during a hearing of the intelligence committee on the risks terror groups posed. He said the US faced dangers from al-Qa'ida, groups that get money or training from terror organisations and "homegrown extremists" in the US.
Retired Admiral Mike McConnell, the director of National Intelligence, suggested circumstances determine whether waterboarding was lawful.
"If there was a reason to use such a technique, you would have to make a judgment on the circumstances," he said.
- MCT, AFP