If the tamer methods did not work, operatives could ask CIA headquarters for permission to use more daunting techniques -- such as sleep deprivation and waterboarding. Three detainees were waterboarded before the last waterboarding in March 2003. The memos revealed that two detainees -- Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (aka KSM) -- were water boarded a total of 266 times.
Some maintain that the CIA might have learned what it needed to know without waterboarding. But as one memo reported, before the questioning got tough, "KSM resisted giving any answers to questions about future attacks, simply noting, 'Soon you will know.'"
The questioning got tougher. As the memo noted, the CIA believes that "the intelligence acquired from these interrogations has been a key reason why al Qaeda has failed to launch a spectacular attack in the West since 11 September 2001."
And: Once "enhanced techniques" were used on KSM, interrogations "led to the discovery of a KSM plot, the 'Second Wave,' … to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner' into a building in Los Angeles."
Do I like waterboarding? No, but it is not life threatening; in extreme cases, I can live with it. And I'll take waterboarding over a 9/11 in Los Angeles any day.
One last point: The Navy has used waterboarding in training. Obama put a stop to the "enhanced" techniques because he believes they have tarnished America's image abroad, which makes Americans less safe. People of goodwill can disagree on that point.
But when Obama opened the door for his attorney general to prosecute Bush lawyers, that flip-flop told U.S. intelligence and law enforcement operatives that Obama's assurances cannot be trusted. That can't be good for America's safety.
Former California Gov. Pete Wilson, who served on the Bush Defense Policy Board, was appalled. "If they try to prosecute that, that should spark mass resignations in the government," he told me Tuesday.
As for Obama, Wilson said, "This is a guy who was teaching law. Good God."