Correcting the record on the waterboarding of KSM

Fox News has a report that will garner little to no attention from the mainstream press on the issue of how many times KSM was waterboarded before he started singing. Popular news outlets, citing figures from the memos Obama released on EITs, have reported that it was done to him “183 times” – which is not the case:

The New York Times reported last week that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, was waterboarded 183 times in one month by CIA interrogators. The “183 times” was widely circulated by news outlets throughout the world.

It was shocking. And it was highly misleading. The number is a vast inflation, according to information from a U.S. official and the testimony of the terrorists themselves.

A U.S. official with knowledge of the interrogation program told FOX News that the much-cited figure represents the number of times water was poured onto Mohammed’s face — not the number of times the CIA applied the simulated-drowning technique on the terror suspect. According to a 2007 Red Cross report, he was subjected a total of “five sessions of ill-treatment.”

“The water was poured 183 times — there were 183 pours,” the official explained, adding that “each pour was a matter of seconds.”

The Times and dozens of other outlets wrote that the CIA also waterboarded senior Al Qaeda member Abu Zubaydah 83 times, but Zubayda himself, a close associate of Usama bin Laden, told the Red Cross he was waterboarded no more than 10 times.

The confusion stems from language in the Justice Department legal memos that President Obama released on April 16. They contain the numbers, but they fail to explain exactly what they represent.


The Justice Department memos described the maximum allowed use of the waterboard on any detainee, based on tactical training given to U.S. troops to resist interrogations:

— Five days of use in one month, with no more than two “sessions” in a day;
— Up to six applications (something like a dunk) lasting more than 10 seconds but less than 40 seconds per session;
— 12 minutes of total “water application” in a 24-hour period

Bloggers who read the memos last week noted that the CIA’s math “doesn’t add up” — meaning that the 12 long pours allowed in a day couldn’t add up to the 12 minutes mentioned in the memo, and they could barely even guess how the detainees could have been waterboarded an astounding 286 times in one month.

The memos did not note that the sessions would be made up of a number of short pours — the ones the U.S. official said lasted “a matter of seconds” — and that created the huge numbers quoted by the New York Times: 183 on Mohamed, 83 on Zubaydah.

Pours, not waterboards.

Note that Fox News credits intrepid bloggers for figuring out that the “183 times” figure was highly misleading. And they also pointed out later in the piece that the Red Cross report makes the numbers even more clear. Was there no one at any mainstream news media outlet who could have done the same thing? Or was there, and they just didn’t bother checking their Bush-bashing hit pieces?

Will mainstream media outlets like the WaPo and the NYT correct their reporting on the number of times KSM was waterboarded? Don’t – no pun intended – hold your breath.

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