Washington – CIA Director Leon E. Panetta announced today that the agency will begin underwater-only interrogations of suspected terrorists in U.S. custody, in the hope of “gleaning information we would not be able to obtain if the suspect were above sea level.”
The announcement is certain to spark controversy, as it comes on the heels of the release of several Justice Department memos detailing harsh interrogation tactics used by the CIA on detainees at several secret prisons.
Mr. Panetta said he was aware the decision would likely be unpopular in many circles. “But popular or unpopular isn’t the issue,” he said. “What matters is getting actionable intelligence from these suspected terrorists. And we’ve found in countless hours of first-hand experience that suspects give answers of much greater value when they’re quickly sinking to the bottom of the ocean. It just seems to do the trick.”
Mr. Panetta would not specify details of the underwater interrogations. But according to a senior official in the Central Intelligence Agency, the U.S. interrogators will wear oxygen tanks and wetsuits, while the suspect being questioned will wear nothing of the kind.
“Basically, it’ll be two or three CIA guys in their scuba gear surrounding this one suspect in just his orange jumpsuit, who’s handcuffed and tied to a large rock or some other heavy object,” the official said. “To keep him from floating up to the surface and potentially being able to breathe.”
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said the difficulty for interrogators comes in the posing of the questions. “That part they have to do in the boat, up above the water. Then, when they’re sure the suspect has understood the question, someone says, ‘Go!’ and they push him overboard. Then the interrogators wearing the scuba gear drop themselves into the water and swim down to find out his response.”
As he floats down into ever-deeper waters, the suspect must decide whether or not he’s willing to answer the question asked of him.
“In the tests we’ve run, they usually decide to answer the question,” he said. “Sometimes they don’t, though, and then you gotta swim all the way down to the bottom and scoop them up. It’s a pain. They’re heavy, they’re full of the water they’ve ingested, and they’re tied to this rock. It’s no picnic getting all that weight back up to the boat.”