Yet none of these interrogations were the result of a "rogue" CIA or the mad whims of a "torture presidency." The relevant Democratic congressional leadership for intelligence - including current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Jay Rockefeller and former Sen. Bob Graham - were briefed on CIA operations more than once. "Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing," Porter Goss, who chaired the House Intelligence Committee from 1997 to 2004 before becoming CIA director, told The Washington Post. "And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement."
As for the slippery-slope caterwauling, the opposite is true. The slope toward more torture and abuse has gone up, not down, and it is today more difficult to climb than ever. According to existing law and Justice Department rulings, the practice has been proscribed for several years now - except, that is, for the thousands of U.S. servicemen who've been subjected to it by the U.S. military as part of their training.
The current debate over legislation to ban waterboarding in all circumstances stinks of political opportunism. Democrats want to claim that Republicans are "pro-torture" if they vote against the legislation. Others are hoping to advance criminal prosecutions of CIA operatives who used the techniques sparingly and with approval from both the White House and Congress, and from both parties.
I don't like waterboarding, and I hope we never use it again. I have respect for those who believe it should be banned in all circumstances. But I do not weep that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed spent somewhere between .03 and .06 seconds feeling like he was drowning for every person he allegedly helped murder on 9/11.
Then again, I think it would horrific if we used that logic to justify waterboarding. It's not a technique that should be used for punishment. Nor do I think that evidence obtained from forced confessions should be used in trial. Those are paving stones on the road to a torture state.
But, given the circumstances at the time, I think the decision to waterboard these three men was right and certainly defensible.
The editors of USA Today disagree. They say that the decision to use waterboarding "was understandable in the frenzied aftermath of the 9/11 and anthrax attacks. What's inexplicable, however, is why, after having several years to assess the matter deliberately, the Bush administration continues to resist efforts to ban waterboarding."
It's only inexplicable if you think we'll never have a "frenzied" moment like that again. Let's hope.