CBS ‘Early Show’: CIA Uses ‘Spanish Inquisition’ Torture Tactic

On Firday’s CBS "Early Show," co-host Harry Smith began a segment on the controversy over Attorney General nominee, Michael Mukasey’s stance on water boarding with a report from Capitol Hill Correspondent Chip Reid, who exclaimed that:

Water boarding is a highly controversial interrogation technique that simulates drowning...It's been used by interrogators since the Spanish Inquisition. Reportedly, it's been used by the CIA in real life, too, on a small number of Al Qaeda suspects.

In addition to this exaggerated characterization, Reid also made it seem as though the issue of water boarding was a sudden, shocking controversy, rather than an instance of a consensus nominee, well-liked by Democrats and Republicans, being attacked by those who once welcomed him:

Michael Mukasey looked like he was sailing along to easy confirmation as attorney general, until he ran aground on the issue of water boarding...If he is defeated, water boarding will be the issue that made the difference, something no one could have predicted when the hearings began.

Reid also quoted Democrats who announced opposition to Mukasey’s nomination, like Ted Kennedy: "I cannot in good conscience support his nomination." However, no mention was made of other prominent liberal Senators, like Patrick Leahy, Charles Schumer, or Harry Reid, who originally supported the nomination. According to an October 16 Associated Press story:

"I would expect him to be confirmed," Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told reporters after meeting with the former federal judge. "I like Judge Mukasey," Leahy added. "I want him to succeed."...Another White House foe, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., suggested Mukasey to replace Alberto Gonzales...Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said that Mukasey faces few, if any, obstacles to confirmation.

How quickly things can change.

In the second half of the segment, Smith talked with former CIA official, John Brennan to discuss specifics of the water boarding tactics and their effectiveness. After showing video of simulated water boarding, Smith asked Brennan, "Is that torture?" Brennan responded by saying, "I think it is, certainly, subjecting an individual to severe pain and suffer, which is the classic definition of torture. And I believe, quite frankly, it's inconsistent with American values and it's something that should be prohibited."

Smith then asked:

You know, this all becomes such a giant issue because the president has gone on record so many times saying the United States does not torture. If we acknowledge that this kind of activity goes on, you know, what does that mean, exactly I guess?

Despite stating his opposition to the use of water boarding, Brennan did make an important point about aggressive interrogation tactics in general:

There has been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency has, in fact, used against the real hardcore terrorists. It has saved lives. And let's not forget, these are hardened terrorists who have been responsible for 9/11, who have shown no remorse at all for the death of 3,000 innocents.

That hardly sounds like the Spanish Inquisition.

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:00AM TEASER:

HARRY SMITH: And water boarding, the matter of torture derailing President Bush's nominee for attorney general. What they really do in secret.

7:09AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: The issue of torture has caused President Bush to draw a line in the sand over his nominee for attorney general. Mr. Bush says if Michael Mukasey isn't confirmed, then there just won't be an attorney general. CBS News Capitol Hill Correspondent Chip Reid has the latest. Chip, good morning.

CHIP REID: Well good morning, Harry. Michael Mukasey looked like he was sailing along to easy confirmation as attorney general, until he ran aground on the issue of water boarding. Water boarding is a highly controversial interrogation technique that simulates drowning, as seen here in the CIA spy thriller "The Good Shepherd." It's been used by interrogators since the Spanish Inquisition. Reportedly, it's been used by the CIA in real life, too, on a small number of Al Qaeda suspects. But Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey refuses to say whether he considers it torture.

MICHAEL MUKASEY: I don't know what's involved in the technique. If water boarding is torture, torture is not constitutional.

SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: That's a massive hedge. I mean, it either is or it isn't. I'm very disappointed in that answer.

REID: Four Judiciary Committee Democrats have already said they'll vote against Mukasey and more are expected to follow because of his refusal to clearly state that water boarding is torture. Thursday, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts became the latest to join the opposition.

TED KENNEDY: And I cannot in good conscience support his nomination. My concerns begin with Judge Mukasey's answers to our questions about the water boarding.

REID: President Bush Thursday, without saying whether the U.S. has used water boarding, defended Mukasey's position.

GEORGE W. BUSH: He does not know whether certain methods of questioning are, in fact, used because the program is classified. And, therefore, he is in no position to provide an informed opinion.

REID: The Senate expert on torture is John McCain, who was severely tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He supports Mukasey's nomination, but says water boarding clearly is torture. In a campaign speech Thursday, he also said it is not effective.

MCCAIN: But if you inflict enough physical pain on somebody, they'll tell you anything they think that you want to know.

REID: Now, the committee vote on Mukasey is scheduled for Tuesday and is expected to be close. If he is defeated, water boarding will be the issue that made the difference, something no one could have predicted when the hearings began, Harry.

SMITH: Chip Reid, thanks so much. Joining me now is CBS News Consultant John Brennan, former Deputy Executive Director of the CIA and former Director of its National Counter-terrorism Center. He's with us here in our New York studio this morning. Good morning.

JOHN BRENNAN: Good morning, Harry.

SMITH: I want to play some tape, because people have been hearing water boarding, water boarding, water boarding, for a week now. We just showed a little tape from a film. This is actual -- a former special forces member, who now a reporter, said I want to show people what this is like. What happens in water boarding?

BRENNAN: Well, water boarding is a tactic, has been discussed, been used for several hundreds of years. And the individual usually is strapped to a board. His hands and legs are bound, and his head is lower than his feet. And then a constant stream of water is put over his face, his nose and his mouth. And it simulates drowning, and it also induces a gag reflex on an individual, which causes them to want to have that procedure stopped.

SMITH: Right. This is a sort of mild, and as we talked earlier almost amateurish version. The person's head is usually at a much greater angle and an almost more continuous flow of water, so the sensation is very immediate that the person thinks they're going to drown.

BRENNAN: Yes, and a sort of classic water boarding, and I'm not saying the CIA has ever used water boarding, but there would be a constant stream of water and a volume of water that is going to be continuous. Here they stop in between on occasions.

SMITH: Right, right.

BRENNAN: But it's something the individual wants to stop at any cost.

SMITH: Is that torture?

BRENNAN: I think it is, certainly, subjecting an individual to severe pain and suffer, which is the classic definition of torture. And I believe, quite frankly, it's inconsistent with American values and it's something that should be prohibited. But I think Judge Mukasey is in a very difficult position right now, as the attorney general nominee, to be asked whether or not this is torture and if torture then is unconstitutional or illegal, they're asking whether or not water boarding is illegal and whether or not the individuals, which includes the president and others, if it was used, who authorized and actually used this type of procedure, may be subject to some type of judicial action.

SMITH: You know, this all becomes such a giant issue because the president has gone on record so many times saying the United States does not torture. If we acknowledge that this kind of activity goes on, you know, what does that mean, exactly I guess?

BRENNAN: Well, the CIA has acknowledged that it has detained about 100 terrorists since 9/11, and about a third of them have been subjected to what the CIA refers to as "enhanced interrogation tactics." And only a small proportion of those have, in fact, been subjected to the most serious types of enhanced procedures.

SMITH: And you say some of this has born fruit.

BRENNAN: There has been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency has, in fact, used against the real hardcore terrorists. It has saved lives. And let's not forget, these are hardened terrorists who have been responsible for 9/11, who have shown no remorse at all for the death of 3,000 innocents.

SMITH: John Brennan, we thank you very, very much for enlightening us this morning. We really do appreciate it.

BRENNAN: Thank you Harry.

SMITH: Alright.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC