Intelligence reporter Eric Lichtblau and Benjamin Weiser reported Saturday on the Obama administration's controversial decision to try confessed 9-11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in civilian court in New York City: "For Both Sides, Unparalleled Legal Obstacles."
A self-righteous editorial that same day, "A Return to American Justice," huffed:
The fact that defense lawyers are likely to press to have evidence of abuse aired in court - Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was tortured by waterboarding 183 times - is unlikely to derail the prosecutions, especially given Mr. Holder's claim to have evidence that has not been released yet.
Hmm. Assume that "183" figure is accurate. Waterboarding must not have been too much of a torture, or even overly traumatic, if it had to be done 183 times before KSM coughed up information. That waterboarding worked on KSM is the conclusion of an August 29 Washington Post story, "How a Detainee Became an Asset - Sept. 11 Plotter Cooperated After Waterboarding."
But the NYT's "183" figure is actually misleading, argued a U.S. official back in April when the Times' Scott Shane reported the "183" factoid (which had been first unearthed by a left-wing blogger):
A U.S. official with knowledge of the interrogation program told FOX News that the much-cited figure represents the number of times water was poured onto Mohammed's face - not the number of times the CIA applied the simulated-drowning technique on the terror suspect. According to a 2007 Red Cross report, he was subjected a total of "five sessions of ill-treatment."
"The water was poured 183 times - there were 183 pours," the official explained, adding that "each pour was a matter of seconds."
Lichtblau and Weiser used the same figure on Saturday:
Then will come the inevitable challenges to interrogation methods used on Mr. Mohammed during more than six years in detention. The government has acknowledged waterboarding him 183 times to extract information about the Sept. 11 attacks, which he eventually admitted planning.
After weighing the possibilities of getting a liberal New York City jury to impose a death penalty on KSM, the Times repeated the "183" figure:
If the Sept. 11 defendants do face death penalty proceedings, their lawyers will almost certainly cite as a mitigating argument against capital punishment their clients' treatment in detention, including the claims of coercive interrogation and in the case of Mr. Mohammed, the 183 instances of waterboarding.