Mark Bowden, author of “Blackhawk Down” and a longtime student on interrogation methods says that “No one should be prosecuted for waterboarding Abu Zubaydah.” He notes that waterboarding certainly does not inflict pain – in that sense, it is not torture in the physical sense. Instead, it inflicts fear. Is there a valid distinction? He doesn’t quite say. But he adds:
People can be coerced into revealing important, truthful information. … prisoners have throughout recorded time. What works varies for every individual, but in most cases, what works is fear, fear of imprisonment, fear of discomfort, fear of pain, fear of bad things happening to you, fear of bad things happening to those close to you. Some years ago in Israel, in the course of investigating this subject exhaustively, I interviewed Michael Koubi, a master interrogator who has questioned literally thousands of prisoners in a long career with Shin Bet. He said that the prisoner who resisted noncoercive methods was rare, but in those hard cases, fear usually produced results. Fear works better than pain. … It is an ugly business, and it is rightly banned. The interrogators who waterboarded Zubaydah were breaking the law. They knew they were risking their careers and freedom. But if the result of the act itself was a healthy terrorist with a bad memory vs. a terror attack that might kill hundreds or even thousands of people, it is a good outcome. The decision to punish those responsible for producing it is an executive one. Prosecutors and judges are permitted to weigh the circumstances and consider intent.
Which is why I say that waterboarding Zubaydah may have been illegal, but it wasn't wrong.
Bowden’s look at “what was allegedly done to Zubaydah, and why” is here.