For all the debate over waterboarding, it has been used on only three al Qaeda figures, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials. As ABC News first reported in September, waterboarding has not been used since 2003 and has been specifically prohibited since Gen. Michael Hayden took over as CIA director. Officials told ABC News on Sept. 14 that the controversial interrogation technique, in which a suspect has water poured over his mouth and nose to stimulate a drowning reflex as shown in the above demonstration, had been banned by the CIA director at the recommendation of his deputy, Steve Kappes. Hayden sought and received approval from the White House to remove waterboarding from the list of approved interrogation techniques first authorized by a presidential finding in 2002. The officials say the decision was made sometime last year but has never been publicly disclosed by the CIA. THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS Blotter CIA Bans Waterboarding in Terror Interrogations Blotter How the CIA Broke the 9/11 Attacks Mastermind Blotter Investigator: ‘High-Value Targets’ Imprisoned by High-Level ‘Cover-up’ Exclusive: Sources Tell ABC News Top Al Qaeda Figures Held in Secret CIA Prisons CIA’s Harsh Interrogation Techniques Described Full Blotter Coverage CIA Secret Prisons One U.S. intelligence official said, "It would be wrong to assume that the program of the past moved into the future unchanged." A CIA spokesman said, as a matter of policy, he would decline to comment on interrogation techniques, "which have been and continue to be lawful," he said. The practice of waterboarding has been branded as "torture" by human rights groups and a number of leading U.S. officials, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., because it amounted to a "mock execution." It has been at the center of the debate that threatens to derail the confirmation of President George Bush’s attorney general nominee, Michael Mukasey. As a result of Hayden’s decision, officials say, the most extreme technique left available to CIA interrogators would be what is termed "longtime standing," which includes exhaustion and sleep deprivation with prisoners forced to stand handcuffed, with their feet shackled to the floor. The most effective use of waterboarding, according to current and former CIA officials, was in breaking Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, known as KSM, who subsequently confessed to a number of ongoing plots against the United States. A senior CIA official said KSM later admitted it was only because of the waterboarding that he talked. Ultimately, KSM took responsibility for the 9/ll attacks and virtually all other al Qaeda terror strikes, including the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. "KSM lasted the longest under waterboarding, about a minute and a half, but once he broke, it never had to be used again," said a former CIA official familiar with KSM’s case. ABC News first reported on waterboarding in November 2005 as part of a George Polk Award-winning series of reports on the agency and its practices. In that report, CIA sources outlined for ABC News a list of harsh interrogation techniques approved by the Bush administration in a "Presidential Finding," which authorized the use of the techniques on a narrow range of "high-value" targets. The CIA sources described the list of six "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" instituted in mid-March 2002 and used, they said, on a dozen top al Qaeda targets incarcerated in isolation at secret locations on military bases in regions from Asia to Eastern Europe. According to the sources, only a handful of CIA interrogators are trained and authorized to use the techniques: 1. The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him. 2. The Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear. 3. The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage. 4. Longtime Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions. 5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water. 6. Waterboarding (as demonstrated in the picture above): The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt. According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the waterboarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. Contacted after the completion of the ABC News investigation, CIA officials would neither confirm nor deny the accounts. They simply declined to comment. Do you have a tip for Brian Ross and the Investigative Team?