The recently declassified Bush Administration torture memos contain startlingly precise descriptions of the proposed interrogation techniques. The memos, prepared by Bush lawyers to justify the techniques, read like one giant cover your ass corporate document for a litigious society.
Before the written memos that gave the OK to torture, there were a couple of face-to-face (alluded to in the memos themselves) meetings between Bush lawyers and the CIA client and no doubt, a few phone calls. One can only imagine that at some point during these talks the Justice Department lawyers politely asked Bush Administration operatives,
"now let me see if I understand exactly what you're describing. You're going to strap someone to a board so they can't move, cover their face with a towel, and then slowly pour water into their nostrils. Is that correct? And from what I understand you've said, the prisoner, no matter how much training they have had, no matter that they may be aware of how the process works, the prisoner will react as if being drowned? Correct? The reflex can't be stopped? The prisoner will believe they are drowning, about to die, and will react according except they are strapped to a board. And you also say that you'll do this technique, 'waterboarding is your preferred term?', for about 30 seconds until the prisoner thinks they are about to die and then you'll stop, lift the towel just long enough for the prisoner to gasp three or four breaths, and then you'll pour water down their throat again so the prisoner again has the sensation of death-by-drowning. Correct? And this process will continue for as long as 20 minutes or until the prisoner capitulates? And you wish to know if this is torture?"
The lawyer then goes on to explain that even though water-boarding is designed to, and will result in, the prisoner believing that their life is threatened by imminent death, the technique does not "inflict severe physical pain and suffering". The reason--here is where the fancy lawyering comes into play--is that the term severe physical pain and suffering has been defined by the Bush Administration as one that has lasting mental or physical manifestations. How one can expect a prisoner to believe they are getting ready to drown, spill their guts, and the process NOT leave a lasting mental mark on their pysche is a little unclear. Under this scenario, the process is designed to be so scary as to extract a confession, yet subtle enough that the prisoner wakes up the next morning with no memory of the event.
One really has to wonder about the logic that went into the Bush Administration conclusion that these interrogation techniques weren't torture. The rationale that waterboarding doesn't cause long-term pain and suffering is based on the notion that the US military subjects some of it's own operatives to intense training to let them know what they might expect to happen if they were captured and tortured by the enemy. Waterboarding is used an example of the kind of torture they might have be expected to endure. We expose them waterboarding as an EXAMPLE of torture.
Hindsight is always twenty-twenty but at some point it would have been nice if the 'family-friendly' Bush Administration had taken a poll of what they loved to call real Americans. The could have described the process to the mother of a US service member who's either going to, or currently serving in the armed conflict, and then asked the parent, OK, if your son/daughter is captured and these same techniques applied, would you consider waterboarding to be a form of torture?
Note to the Obama Administration. The President, regardless of the precedent the Bush Administration tried to establish, does not decide who gets prosecuted for violations of US laws. That decision is better left to the Department of Justice.