Underplayed Story of the Day

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This one, back on A4 of the Washington Post, suggests that waterboarding is not just being used as a questionably effective tool for intelligence gathering:

The top legal adviser for the military trials of Guantanamo Bay detainees told Congress yesterday that he cannot rule out the use of evidence derived from the CIA’s aggressive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, a tactic that simulates drowning.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, who oversees the prosecutors who will try the detainees at military commissions, said that while “torture” is illegal, he cannot say whether waterboarding violates the law. Nor would he say that such evidence would be barred at trial.

We have always known that the military commissions operate under different legal standards than civilian courts. But even military prosecutors say such coerced evidence has no place in a courtroom. The story includes this, from Air Force Colonel Morris Davis, who recently resigned as chief prosecutor for the military commissions:

In September 2005, just days after Davis took the job as lead prosecutor, he told his team of about two dozen prosecutors and analysts that they probably would run across evidence that resulted from waterboarding and wanted to make it clear that it would never be presented in a courtroom.

“In my opinion, evidence derived by waterboarding is not reliable, and I took it off the table,” Davis said. “I think the vast majority of people were relieved. By and large, most everybody involved in the process, the whole team, was really committed to trying to do this in a way that wasn’t an embarrassment to the country.”

You might think this would be useful information for the Senate Judiciary Commitee’s inquiry into the practice. Apparently, however, the military doesn’t:

Davis was invited to testify at yesterday’s hearing, but the Defense Department ordered him not to attend.

UPDATE: Commenter Sy offers us this useful link to an NPR story on the history of waterboarding, and how the use of a practice deemed morally repugnant since at least the Enlightenment* has been rationalized over the years:

Stephen Rickard, Washington director of the Open Society Institute, says that throughout the centuries, the justifications for using waterboarding have been remarkably consistent.

“Almost every time this comes along, people say, ‘This is a new enemy, a new kind of war, and it requires new techniques,'” he says. “And there are always assurances that it is carefully regulated.”

*Thanks, commenter/copy editor JJ.