Waterboarding: Not So Illegal After All?

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


Yesterday I wrote about the minor firestorm that reignited over waterboarding in recent days, thanks to CIA director Michael Hayden’s Tuesday testimony that his agency waterboarded three al Qaeda members in 2002 and 2003. The White House authorized that particular disclosure; I wonder if they authorized this? Speaking to the House Intelligence Committee yesterday, Hayden said the people who performed the torture were not necessarily trained CIA operatives, but instead unspecified outside contractors:

REP. SCHAKOWSKY (D-IL): Are contractors involved in CIA detention interrogation programs?

GEN. HAYDEN: Absolutely.

REP. SCHAKOWSKY: Were contractors involved in the waterboarding of al Qaeda detainees?

GEN. HAYDEN: I’m not sure of the specifics. I’ll give you a tentative answer: I believe so.

This new wrinkle might explain the apparent confusion among the relevant government agencies over whether or not waterboarding is legal. (By today’s tally, White House says yes, Hayden says no, and Mukasey remains noncommittal.) After all, what’s illegal for the government isn’t necessarily illegal for contractors. We already contract out a good deal of the war, so why not add torture to the mix and save ourselves the legal headache? Maybe this was what White House spokesman Tony Fratto meant when he said that we might still use waterboarding “under certain circumstances.” Then again, maybe it’s simply anybody’s guess.

—Casey Miner

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate