The nation’s intelligence chief says that waterboarding “would be torture” if used against him, or if someone under interrogation was taking water into his lungs.
But Mike McConnell declined for legal reasons to say whether the technique categorically should be considered torture.
“If it ever is determined to be torture, there will be a huge penalty to be paid for anyone engaging in it,” the director of national intelligence told the New Yorker in this week’s issue, released today.
As McConnell describes it, a prisoner is strapped down with a washcloth over his face and water dripped into his nose.
“If I had water draining into my nose, oh God, I just can’t imagine how painful! Whether it’s torture by anybody else’s definition, for me it would be torture,” McConnell told the magazine.
A spokesman for McConnell said the intelligence chief does not dispute the quotes attributed to him. McConnell was interviewed by Lawrence Wright, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for “The Looming Towers,” a book on al-Qaeda and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
McConnell said the legal test for torture should be “pretty simple”: “Is it excruciatingly painful to the point of forcing someone to say something because of the pain?”
White House spokesman Tony Fratto refused comment yesterday on waterboarding and McConnell’s remarks.
“We don’t talk about interrogation techniques. And we are not going to respond to every little thing that shows up in the press,” he said. “We think McConnell is doing an incredible job heading up the intelligence community, reforming it and making it incredibly effective in being able to provide the president the best intelligence on threats to the nation. We think it’s vitally important he and the intelligence community have all the tools they need.”
[A CIA spokesman yesterday noted McConnell’s acknowledgement in the article that the agency’s detention and interrogation program had saved lives and provided information that could not have been obtained through other means. “What he is quoted as saying is a very strong endorsement of the value of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program,” spokesman Mark Mansfield said in a statement. “It also is worth noting that DNI McConnell is quoted as saying the United States does not torture.”]
CIA interrogators were given permission by the White House in 2002 to waterboard three prisoners deemed resistant to conventional techniques. The CIA has not used the technique since 2003; CIA Director Michael V. Hayden prohibited it in 2006.
Last summer, President Bush issued an executive order allowing the CIA to use “enhanced interrogation techniques” that go beyond what is allowed in the 2006 Army Field Manual. Waterboarding is among those techniques.
Wright disclosed in his article that the government has eavesdropped on his telephone conversations with at least two sources: a relative of Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s second-ranking leader; and a lawyer of several men interviewed for “The Looming Towers.”
It is unclear under what authorities those intercepts were conducted.
“It may be troublesome; it may not be,” McConnell told Wright. “You don’t know.”