The Washington Post notes some history about waterboarding of which I was previously unaware:
- In 1947, the United States charged a Japanese officer, Yukio Asano, with war crimes for waterboarding an American, and he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Though the Post article says the victim was a U.S. civilian, the only record I found about the trial says he was punished for actions against POWs. Regardless, both civilians and POW are statuses that alleged terrorists cannot hold. The Bush Administration's handy "enemy combatant" designation ensures that even if such a technique were used on someone like Hamdan, who has been charged only with serving as Osama Bin Ladenís bodyguard and personal driver, buying vehicles and delivering weapons to al Qaeda, it cannot have been a war crime.
- After Vietnam, Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces tried to train soldiers to resist interrogation even under waterboarding, but the "waterboarding proved so successful in breaking their will, says one former Navy captain familiar with the practice, 'they stopped using it because it hurt morale.'" It still leaves open the question of whether breaking someone's will results in useful, truthful information; U.S. pilots in the Korean war who were subjected to "touchless torture" confessed to a bogus plan to use biological weapons against the North Koreans. (Who wants to bet that North Koreans still believe this was a genuine plot?)
- The CIA says that waterboarding was how they got Khalid Sheik Mohammed, to talk, though a "former senior intelligence official" says not all of the information was reliable.
Anyway, the White House says we can't know whether waterboarding is still permitted, because we don't want the terrorists to know and turn out to be better than our military in training people to withstand it during interrogation.