In an interview with the New Yorker last month, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell admitted that if it were done to him, waterboarding “would be torture.” “If I had water draining into my nose, oh God, I just can’t imagine how painful,” said McConnell. “Whether it’s torture by anybody else’s definition, for me it would be torture.”
During a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing today, McConnell backed away from his previous statement, claiming that he had been taken “out of context.” McConnell said that he made his comment during a discussion about “being a water safety instructor” and how “some people” — like himself — “have difficulty putting their head under water”:
MCCONNELL: The discussion was about something entirely different. It was a personal discussion about when I grew up and what I was doing as a youngster. And the discussion was framed around being a water-safety instructor. Some people, and I’m one of them, have difficulty putting their head under water. If your head goes under water, I ingest water in my nose.
So what I was having a discussion with a journalist it was about being a water safety instructor and teaching people to swim. He said, “what about when water goes up your nose?” I said, “that’d be torturous. It’d be very painful for me.” Then it turned into a discussion of waterboarding. Maam, I made no statement or judgment regarding the legality of waterboarding.
McConnell said that after his interview for the New Yorker, he spoke to the journalist who wrote the article, Lawrence Wright, and asked him “not to put that in the article.” McConnell said he argued with Wright for ninety minutes in his effort to have the “torture” quote removed.
Last week, Attorney General Michael Mukasey admitted that he “would feel that” waterboarding “was” torture “if it were done to” him.
UPDATE: McConnell confirmed that waterboarding has been used on “only three detainees.”
UPDATE: TPMmuckraker has the entire New Yorker passage about waterboarding and water-safety instruction.