In an interview with the BBC yesterday, former Bush adviser Karl Rove defended the administration’s use of waterboarding, saying that he was “proud” that Bush “used techniques that broke the will of these terrorists and gave us valuable information.” “Yes, I’m proud that we kept the world safer than it was, by the use of these techniques,” said Rove. “They’re appropriate, they’re in conformity with our international requirements and with US law.” Watch it:
In a separate part of Rove’s interview with the BBC, he invoked a familiar and misleading argument to claim that waterboarding is not torture. “U.S. military personnel go through waterboarding every year in special training courses on survival and escape,” said Rove.
But Rove took the argument a step further, claiming that the waterboarding used in Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Evasion (SERE) training is “distinctly less, you know, constrained than the waterboarding that was applied to three high-value detainees.” Listen here:
Rove is dead wrong about the difference between the waterboarding used at SERE school to train soldiers to resist torture and the waterboarding the Bush administration used on detainees. In fact, the Bush Justice Department acknowledged in one of the torture memos that waterboarding detainees is “a very different situation” from what went on in SERE training:
Individuals undergoing SERE training are obviously in a very different situation from detainees undergoing interrogation; SERE trainees know it is part of a training program, not a real-life interrogation regime, they presumably know it will last only a short time, and they presumably have assurances that they will not be significantly harmed by the training.
A CIA Inspector General investigation “found that the waterboarding technique used on the CIA’s detainees was significantly different from that used in the SERE program: most notably, the Agency’s interrogators used much larger volumes of water.” As Salon’s Mark Benjamin pointed out on Tuesday, a recently released Justice Department document described the differences between the two uses of waterboarding. In soldier training, “The interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth (on a soldier’s face) in a controlled manner,” DOJ wrote. “By contrast, the agency interrogator … continuously applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee’s mouth and nose.”
BBC: And what does that entail, do you think?
ROVE: Well, extensive use of all of the tools available to us. Intelligence, diplomacy, economic suasion, military means, whatever, law enforcement. Whatever is possible to put into this fight to protect Americans and keep our country safe is important.
BBC: Enhanced interrogation, which you talk about in the book.
BBC: Which some people call torture.
ROVE: I do not agree with the use of the word torture. It was very careful. Have you read the memos, incidentally?
BBC: Mmm hmm.
ROVE: Those memos are very carefully designed to describe what is appropriate and not appropriate under our laws and our international commitments. And it worked. It kept America safe. It kept our allies safe. It uncovered plots such as those to fly planes into Heathrow and to the city of London. Plots to fly a plane into the highest building in Los Angeles or to bring down simultaneously over the Pacific. These methods worked by breaking the spirit of high-value targets who knew things that if made available to us would allow us to protect our country and our friends.
BBC: You have no problem with that, even though there are a lot of people, human rights organizations, lawyers as well, who say that that is torture.
ROVE: I, look, this is something about which reasonable people can disagree and I respect people who have a different opinion. I just, I think they are, they are — a lot of what passes for argument in this, the easy use of the word torture to describe say sleep deprivation or diet modification is, I just think inappropriate.
BBC: But we’re talking about waterboarding here.
ROVE: Well, and look, waterboarding. U.S. military personnel go through waterboarding every year in special training courses on survival and escape. And you know, what they go through is distinctly less, you know, constrained than the waterboarding that was applied to three high-value detainees who once they broke and began to cooperate gave us incredibly valuable information that protected the United States and our allies.