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Could George W. Bush or some of his top aides end up behind bars?
It's extremely unlikely, but the Obama administration is taking its first steps along a path that could lead in that direction, with the investigation of Central Intelligence Agency interrogators involved in the war on terror.
"You don't know where these things are going to end up," former CIA agent Peter Brookes told me. "They could go to very high levels in the government."
A Punishable Offense
In the war crimes tribunals that followed Japan's defeat in World War II, the issue of waterboarding was sometimes raised. In 1947, the U.S. charged a Japanese officer, Yukio Asano, with war crimes for waterboarding a U.S. civilian. Asano was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
"All of these trials elicited compelling descriptions of water torture from its victims, and resulted in severe punishment for its perpetrators," writes Evan Wallach in the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law.
On Jan. 21, 1968, The Washington Post ran a front-page photo of a U.S. soldier supervising the waterboarding of a captured North Vietnamese soldier. The caption said the technique induced "a flooding sense of suffocation and drowning, meant to make him talk." The picture led to an Army investigation and, two months later, the court martial of the soldier.
Cases of waterboarding have occurred on U.S. soil, as well. In 1983, Texas Sheriff James Parker was charged, along with three of his deputies, for handcuffing prisoners to chairs, placing towels over their faces, and pouring water on the cloth until they gave what the officers considered to be confessions. The sheriff and his deputies were all convicted and sentenced to four years in prison.