With Congress’ approval of a new attorney general who refused to describe waterboarding as torture, the U.S. Army has sent out a message to its leaders repeating that the interrogation technique is prohibited in the military.
The service issued the Nov. 6 message “to eliminate any confusion that may have arisen as a result of recent public discourse on the subject.”
The U.S. military formally banned waterboarding as an interrogation technique in September 2006.
However, at Senate confirmation hearings last month, then-attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey repeatedly refused to say whether he considers waterboarding a form of torture, as claimed by an unlikely coalition of military officials, doctors and humans rights groups.
The service issued a “strategic communication hot topic” alert to its senior leaders two days before the Senate confirmed Mukasey, asking them to make sure every soldier, family member and Army civilian employee understands the ban on waterboarding. Mukasey was sworn in Nov. 9.
“The U.S. Army strictly prohibits the use of waterboarding during intelligence investigations by any of its members. It is specifically prohibited by Field Manual 2-22.3 and is not a sanctioned interrogation technique in any training manual or any instructions to soldiers in the field,” the statement says.
Technique simulates drowning
Waterboarding is a harsh interrogation technique that involves strapping down a prisoner, covering his mouth with plastic or cloth and pouring water over his face. The prisoner quickly begins to inhale water, causing the sensation of drowning.
Mukasey’s refusal to define waterboarding as torture came in response to senators’ questions about the CIA’s alleged use of the technique. It is believed the CIA used the technique on three prisoners, the last time in 2003. CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden prohibited the use of waterboarding in CIA interrogations in 2006.
If Mukasey confirmed that waterboarding is torture, it could put the CIA interrogators and possibly the chain of command above them in legal peril. Torture is illegal both under U.S. and international law.
As Mukasey equivocated on Capitol Hill, saying he would have to know the specific details surrounding the interrogation to judge whether it was torture, Defense Secretary Robert Gates reiterated the military ban at a press conference on Nov. 1.
“The fact is it’s not a permitted technique under the Army Field Manual, and therefore, no member of the U.S. military is allowed to do it, period,” he said.
Gates would not say whether he believes the banned technique amounts to torture.
“I am not going to wander into that legal thicket,” he said.