OLC Memos Define Official Waterboarding Procedure

A recently declassified four memos has shed light on the recently banned practice of waterboarding. For the first time, the memos publicly describe the officially sanctioned waterboarding interrogation procedure:

Jay S. Bybee, August 1 2002, p.3-4:

In this procedure, the individual is bound securely to an inclined bench, which is approximately four feet by seven feet. The individual's feet are generally elevated. A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes. Water is then applied to the cloth in a controlled manner. As this is done, the cloth is lowered until it covers both the nose and mouth. Once the cloth is saturated and completely covers the mouth and nose, air flow is slightly restricted for 20 to 40 seconds due to the presence of the cloth. This causes an increase in carbon dioxide level in the individual's blood. This increase in the carbon dioxide level stimulates increased effort to breathe. This effort plus the cloth produces the perception of "suffocation and incipient panic," i.e., the perception of drowning. The individual does not breathe any water into his lungs. During those 20 to 40 seconds, water is continuously applied from a height of twelve to twenty-four inches. After this period, the cloth is lifted, and the individual is allowed to breathe unimpeded for three or four full breaths. the sensation of drowning is immediately relieved by the removal of the cloth. The procedure may then be repeated. The water is usually applied from a canteen cup or small watering can with a spout. You have orally informed us that this procedure triggers an automatic physiological sensation of drowning that the individual cannot control even though he may be aware that he is not in fact drowning. You have also orally informed us that it is likely that this procedure would not last more than twenty minutes in any one application.

Steven G Bradbury, May 10 2005, p.13:

13. The "waterboard". In this technique, the detainee is lying on a gurney that is inclined at an angle of 10 to 15 degrees to the horizontal, with the detainee on his back and his head toward the lower end of the gurney. A cloth is placed over the detainee's face and cold water is poured on the cloth from a height of approximately 6 to 8 inches. The wet cloth creates a barrier through which it is difficult - or in some cases not possible - to breathe. A single "application" of water may not last for more than 40 seconds, with the duration of an "application" measured from the moment when water - of whatever quantity - is first poured onto the cloth until the moment the cloth is removed from the subject's face. See August 19 ❚❚❚❚ Letter at 1. When the time limit is reached, the pouring of water is immediately discontinued and the cloth is removed. We understand that if the detainee makes an effort to defeat the technique (e.g. by twisting his head to the side and breathing out of the corner of his mouth), the interrogator may cup his hands around the detainee's nose and mouth to dam the runoff, in which case it would not be possible for a detainee to breathe during the application of the water. In addition, you have informed us that the technique may be applied in a manner to defeat efforts by the detainee to hold his breath by, for example, beginning an application of water as the detainee is exhaling. Either in the normal application, or where countermeasures are used, we understand that water may enter - and may accumulate in - the detainee's mouth and nasal cavity, preventing him from breathing. Either in the normal application, or where countermeasures are used, we understand that water may enter — and may accumulate in — the detainee’s mouth and nasal cavity, preventing him from breathing. In addition, you have indicated that the detainee as a countermeasure may swallow water, possibly in significant quantities. For that reason; based on advice of medical personnel, the C.I.A. requires that saline solution be used instead of plain water to reduce the possibility of hyponatremia (i.e., reduced concentration of sodium in the blood) if the detainee drinks the water.

Note that says "the individual does not breathe any water into his lungs." This is true. The individual breathes water into his mouth, nose, sinuses, larynx, pharynx, and trachea but not the lungs. The lungs are elevated by the inclination of the board to keep them "above the waterline" to prevent the water from actually drowning the individual.

Notes in the second Bradbury memo indicates that the waterboarding technique as actually practiced by CIA interrogators is different from both standard SERE techniques and the technique described in the DOJ opinion. Bradbury's 2005 description of "two sessions, of up to two hours each" significantly surpasses Bybee's 2002 assurances that "it is likely that this procedure would not last more than twenty minutes in any one application":

Steven G Bradbury, May 10 2005, p.42:

In SERE training, the technique is confined to at most two applications (and usually only one) of no more than 40 seconds each. Here, there may be two sessions, of up to two hours each, during a 24-hour period, and each session may include multiple applications, of which six may last 10 seconds or longer (but none more than 40 seconds), for a total time of application of as much as 12 minutes in a 24-hour period. Furthermore, the waterboard may be used up to five days during the 30-day period for which it is approved

Steven G Bradbury, May 10 2005 p.41:

51. The IG Report noted that in some cases the waterboard was used with far greater frequency than initially indicated, see IG Report at 5, 44, 45,103, 104 and also that it was used in a different manner. See id. at 37 (”The waterboard technique was different from the technique described in the DOJ opinion and used in the SERE training. The difference was in the manner in which the detainee’s breathing was obstructed. At the SERE school and in the DoJ opinion, the subject’s airflow is disrupted by by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the Interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the Agency interrogator… applies large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee’s mouth and nose. One of the psychologists/interrogators acknowledged that the Agency’s use of the technique is different than that used by in SERE training because it is ‘for real’ and is ‘more poignant and convincing’.”) The Inspector General further reported that "OMS contends that the expertise of the SERE psychologist/interrogators on the waterboard was probably misrepresented at the time, as the SERE waterboard experience is so so different from the subsequent Agency usage as to make it almost irrelevant. [c]onsequently, according to OMS, there was no a priori reason to believe that applying the waterboard with the frequency and intensity with which it was used by the psychologist/interrogators was either efficacious or medically safe.” Id. at 21 n.26.

Bradbury's memo provides guidelines and limits for the duration that waterboarding may be applied:

Steven G Bradbury, May 10 2005 p.8:

You have informed us that the waterboard may be approved for use with a given detainee only during, at most, one single 30-day period, and that during that period, the waterboard technique may be used on no more than five days. We further understand that in any 24-hour period, interrogators may use no more than two "sessions" of the waterboard on the subject - and that no session may last more than two hours. Moreover, during any session, the number of individual applications of water lasting 10 seconds or longer may not exceed six. The maximum length of any application of water is 40 seconds (you have informed us that this maximum has rarely been reached). Finally the total cumulative time of all applications of whatever length in a 24-hour period may not exceed 12 minutes.

[W]here authorized, it may be used for two “sessions” per day of up to two hours. During a session, water may be applied up to six times for ten seconds or longer (but never more than 40 seconds). In a 24-hour period, a detainee may be subjected to up to twelve minutes of water application. Additionally, the waterboard may be used on as many as five days during a 30-day approval period.

The CIA's procedure violated these guidelines by waterboarding Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed more frequently than even their own procedure allowed:

Steven G Bradbury, May 30 2005 p.37:

The CIA used the waterboard "at least 83 times during August 2002" in the interrogation of Zubaydah, IG Report at 90, and 183 times during March 2003 in the interrogation of KSM, see id. at 91.