The memos, issued in 2005 and New York Times report.by the Obama administration last week, detail Central Intelligence Agency officials using the controversial interrogation technique 183 times on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described 9/11 mastermind, according to a
CIA agents also used the simulated drowning technique on suspected terrorist Abu Zubaydah 83 times in August 2002, though CIA officer John Kiriakou, in a 2007 interview with ABC News, said Zubaydah was waterboarded for just 35 seconds before telling agents all he knew. (You can read the memos here)
The discrepancy between the CIA's former claims and the memo's revelations has prompted questions about the technique's efficacy.
Several bloggers have noted the memo detailing the interrogations of Mohammed and Zubaydah. "That doesn't sound very effective to me," wrote Marcy Wheeler of the Emptywheel blog.
President Barack Obama heads to CIA headquarters Monday, a visit clearly designed to reassure the leadership and rank-and-file at the spy agency of his confidence despite the release of the torture memos written and acted upon under his Republican predecessor.
Mr. Obama has repeatedly rejected policies approved by former President George W. Bush, whose administration engaged in what it termed enhanced interrogation of terrorism suspects. Those actions were carried out on legal advice from the Bush Justice Department.
Mr. Obama's visit to the spy agency was timed to buck up the agency after the memo release, which he accompanied with the message that "it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice, that they will not be subject to prosecution." He did not specifically address the policymakers.
White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said in a Sunday television interview that Mr. Obama does not intend to seek prosecution of Bush administration officials who devised the policies that led to the harsh interrogation of suspected terrorists.
Emanuel said that the president believes they "either and that's not the place that we go."
The decision not to seek charges against the interrogators has been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union and called a violation of international law by the U.N.'s top torture investigator.
In his statement last week, the president said: "This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past."
Republican lawmakers and others contend that national security was undermined by the release of the memos. On Sunday, Obama administration officials pushed back vigorously against that claim.
"We are absolutely confident that we have the tools necessary to get the information we need to keep this country safe," senior presidential adviser David Axelrod said. "And we don't believe and the president of the United States does not believe that this is a contest between our values and our security. He thinks we can honor both and execute both. And that's what he's going to do."
Michael Hayden, who led the CIA under Bush, said the public release of the memos will make it harder to get useful information from suspected terrorists being detained by the United States.
"I think that teaching our enemies our outer limits, by taking techniques off the table, we have made it more difficult in a whole host of circumstances I can imagine, more difficult for CIA officers to defend the nation," Hayden said.
Administration officials said information in the memos already was in the public realm and that releasing details about interrogation techniques gave no new edge to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
Before heading to the CIA, Mr. Obama convenes his first formal Cabinet meeting and will ask department and agency chiefs to look for ways over the next 90 days to cut $100 million out of the federal budget, a senior administration official said.
Back from his fence-mending trip to Latin America and the Caribbean, Mr. Obama will be reminding the panel that American families are having to make tough financial decisions and need to know the government is spending their money wisely, too.
The first Cabinet meeting is being held just days after a series of "Tea Party" demonstrations across the country in which protesters challenged the administration over it's massive spending to help pull the country and its financial system out of an economic nose dive unseen in decades.
Mr. Obama's nominee to be health secretary, Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, still has not been confirmed by the Senate and will not be present, nor will there be a designee.