The hinge point seems to be a misrepresentation of how enhanced interrogation works: it's is not used to obtain information at the moment of interrogation, explained Thiessen. It's used on uncooperative detainees to make them cooperative. KSM, in fact, would taunt his interrogators while being waterboarded--since he knew they could only perform the process for a certain amount of time--by counting the seconds on his hands, according to Thiessen.
Questions are then asked of the detainee that CIA knows the answers to. When it's determined the detainee is finally getting truthful, EIT stops, the detainee goes into standard interrogation, and there the questioning resumes. Thiessen also emphasized that EIT is effective, but it's not a truth serum (which is, in fact, illegal and therefore is not used during enhanced interrogations, Mukasey volunteered), so it's not surprising that KSM gave false information along with legitimate items.
Thiessen also unequivocally states that the EIT program was not torture, and Mukasey vouches that the program did not violate the torture statute. Waterboarding itself is not designed to cause pain. It simply heightens the level of CO2 in the blood, and is thus designed to cause panic.
Other panelists at the AEI event were less clear. John Rizzo, former acting general counsel of the CIA, said he didn't think there could be any real, factual argument that the program yielded huge benefits in terms of intelligence, but he also said that what the administration has in place now doesn't "come close" to producing the kind of intelligence the previous program produced.
What the administration has in place now, described fellow panelist Elisa Massimino of Human Rights First, is a high-value interrogation group which includes representatives from the FBI, CIA, and the military. Obama ended enhanced interrogation techniques when he became president.
Thiessen said one of the most important elements of any program handling detainees and interrogations going forward is making sure terrorists don't know what techniques the U.S. uses so they can't train for resistance to it. He said it could be as simple as a blank page annexed to the Army field manual, as long as it's classified. It's the element of the unknown that helps make the program successful.
Mukasey recommended an interrogation program that was lawful, classified, and run by the CIA, although Rizzo was hesitant to have the CIA in charge of the interrogation because of the backlash it's taken in the past. He said the men and women of the agency deserved a consistent policy with adequate legal authority.
Mukasey also wants a consistent policy on detainees, and he wants a solution other than civilian courts and military commissions for which to try detainees.