At first, the argument was that waterboarding was so swift and its results so immediate, it couldn't be regarded as torture (so the Khmer Rouge were just conducting "enhanced interrogation"):
KSM “didn’t resist,” one CIA veteran said in the August 13 issue of The New Yorker. “He sang right away. He cracked real quick.” Another CIA official told ABC News: “KSM lasted the longest under water-boarding, about a minute and a half, but once he broke, it never had to be used again.”
Now, the defense, from Limbaugh, is as follows:
"[I]f somebody can be water-tortured six times a day, then it isn't torture... He didn't complain ... Six times a day: it means you aren't afraid of it."
The point of torture is always torture. They will find any justification for it they can.
The point is to exert total absolute control over another human being - and to break that human being into as many pieces - physical, psychological, spiritual - as possible. This breaking of another human being is what Cheney wanted; it is what gave him a sense of control after he had presided over the worst attack in American history. Even though the victim had nothing more to tell, the torture had to go on and on - in part to generate data to justify the torture. Can you imagine what it felt like to put Zubaydah on the waterboard the seventieth time, knowing he had nothing more to say, knowing he was the wrong guy?
This is how war criminals behave and how they think. Once they go down the path of barbarism, they need to torture more and more to come up with the rationales to justify the torture they have already practised. Their own guilt pushes them forward. It's a perfectly closed loop, the point of which is the total extirpation of human freedom in a cell-block. This moment of total darkness - total power - is what the torturer always craves; and what he never recovers from.
(Photo: torture authorizer Dick Cheney by Win McNamee/Getty.)