Suspected 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was “not tortured” on 183 separate occasions in March 2003, according to a newly released memo from the Bush-era Justice Department.
The declassified document confirms that interrogators used waterboarding – a controversial technique that simulates drowning – about six times a day for one month following the terror leader’s arrest.
President Obama authorised the release of the top secret memo on Thursday, citing its “exceptional circumstances”. Unlike Mr Bush, he views waterboarding as torture and has signed an executive order banning it.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was arrested on March 1, 2003 during a raid by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency in Karachi.
To this date he remains the most high-profile member of Al Qaeda to be captured alive, having served as the terror organisation’s third-in-command behind Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Mr Mohammed is also the suspected masterminded of the 9/11 attacks on America, and has been accused of involvement in the 1993 World Trade Centre bombings as well as the murder of Daniel Pearl.
Following his arrest, US intelligence agencies scrambled to glean whatever information they could about active Al Qaeda plots.
According to the newly released memo, however, which confirms for the first time the scope of the Bush administration’s euphemistically labelled “enhanced interrogation” techniques, this involved subjecting the high-value detainee to an unrelenting daily ordeal of near-death experiences.
Previous accounts had alluded only to isolated use. In 2007, former CIA officer John Kiriakou told CNN that Al Qaeda detainee Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded for “about 30 seconds,” prompting his immediate cooperation.
The harsher reality, as outlined in the CIA memo by then deputy assistant attorney general Steven Bradbury, illustrates how America was in fact routinely torturing detainees just two years after the 9/11 atrocities.
In the immediate aftermath of those attacks, the US had basked in a wave of support from almost every nation on the planet.
But unease about the Bush administration’s alleged willingness to compromise civil liberties – notably through waterboarding, Guanatanamo Bay and the broadening of anti-terror legislation – quickly led to disquiet.
President Obama has since sought to assuage such fears by announcing the closure of Guantanamo Bay and the end of “enhanced interrogation,” which he outlawed on his second day in office. A previous attempt by Congress to ban waterboarding was vetoed by Mr Bush last year.
Commenting on his decision to declassify the document, dated May 30, 2005, President Obama said: “Withholding these memos would only serve to deny facts that have been in the public domain for some time.”
He also praised the work carried out by US intelligence operatives, adding that no-one who “carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice” would be prosecuted.
Waterboarding involves immobilising a detainee on their back before pouring water over the face and into breathing passages, thereby causing temporary suffocation and the expectation of imminent death.
It has been sanctioned by the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia; Chile's General Pinochet; and, sadly, the US administration of George W Bush.