Thursday, November 1

Waterboarding is torture

I have to confess, I didn't know the details of waterboarding (I'm a little ashamed). Therefore, I have not been alarmed by that part of the national discussion about torture. I am after reading I know waterboarding is torture - because I did it myself.

Waterboarding is not a simulation. Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.  

Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim's face) and the obstinacy of the subject. A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience, to horrific suffocating punishment to the final death spiral.  

Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration –usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten with its use again and again.  

Call it "Chinese Water Torture," "the Barrel," or "the Waterfall," it is all the same. Whether the victim is allowed to comply or not is usually left up to the interrogator. Many waterboard team members, even in training, enjoy the sadistic power of making the victim suffer and often ask questions as an after thought. These people are dangerous and predictable and when left unshackled, unsupervised or undetected they bring us the murderous abuses seen at Abu Ghraieb, Baghram and Guantanamo. No doubt, to avoid human factors like fear and guilt someone has created a one-button version that probably looks like an MRI machine with high intensity waterjets.

The fuller version is at the excellent Small Wars Journal (via MountainRunner).

Ironically, the fact that the Bush Administration has legitimized waterboarding makes it that much more important that American service personnel be subjected to it in training because the likelihood increases that they will be tortured if they are captured.

However, when performed with even moderate intensity over an extended time on an unsuspecting prisoner – [Enhanced Interrogation Techniques are] torture, without doubt. Couple that with waterboarding and the entire medley not only "shock the conscience" as the statute forbids -it would terrify you. Most people can not stand to watch a high intensity kinetic interrogation. One has to overcome basic human decency to endure watching or causing the effects. The brutality would force you into a personal moral dilemma between humanity and hatred. It would leave you to question the meaning of what it is to be an American.

But, now, reading through the comments, I'm reminded that my buddy, Dan, has weighed in on this topic. He takes exception with the author above, especially on technical issues like the use of rhetoric and the morality of the argument.

I find myself closest in opinion to 'ry', who I know digitally from Tom's weblog. I don't have a problem with shame, temperature, stress positions, etc. when it comes to interrogation. Of course, I do not want these to be used casually. I cannot agree that all of the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques are torture. In fact, of those listed in the link above, I would only say that waterboarding is truly out-of-bounds torture.

Now, let me hasten to add, I'm no authority. I may have missed something. I am open to learning from you. What do you think?
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