183 times

183 TIMES…. Marcy Wheeler scrutinized some of the Bush administration’s torture memos and discovered a striking statistic.

According to the May 30, 2005 Bradbury memo, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 and Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002. […]

[T]two two-hour sessions a day, with six applications of the waterboard each = 12 applications in a day. Though to get up to the permitted 12 minutes of waterboarding in a day (with each use of the waterboard limited to 40 seconds), you’d need 18 applications in a day. Assuming you use the larger 18 applications in one 24-hour period, and do 18 applications on five days within a month, you’ve waterboarded 90 times — still just half of what they did to KSM.

For years, one of the unfortunate aspects of the “debate” over abusive interrogation policies is the concerns surrounding practicality — as if torture would we justifiable, if we knew with some certainty that it would produce the results (i.e., useful intelligence) we wanted.

Indeed, for proponents of torture, it’s often all that matters. Never mind the law, or morality, or national prestige, or what these tactics do to undermine national security. If torture is effective, the argument goes, then it’s a tool that belongs in our arsenal.

Now, we’ve known for quite some that the argument is not only morally bankrupt, it’s also wrong. Torture “works” by compelling the abused to say what he/she thinks his/her captors want to hear.

And the KSM example seems to put the practical question to rest altogether. If waterboarding was an effective torture technique, why on earth did officials feel the need to administer it 183 times on one individual? What kind of sadist thinks, “We didn’t get the information we wanted after torturing him 182 times, but maybe once more will do the trick”?

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.