01 November 2007

Waterboarding is the new black

Waterboarding is a form of torture that consists of immobilising an individual on their back, with the head inclined downward, and pouring water over the face to force the inhalation of water and induce the sensation of drowning. Waterboarding has been used to obtain information, coerce confessions, punish, and intimidate. In contrast to merely submerging the head, waterboarding elicits the gag reflex, and can make the subject believe death is imminent while leaving no physical damage.

The practice garnered renewed attention and notoriety in September 2006, when further reports charged that the Bush administration had authorised the use of waterboarding on extrajudicial prisoners of the United States, often referred to as "detainees" in the U.S. war on terrr.

ABC News reported that current and former CIA officers stated that "there is a presidential finding, signed in 2002, by President Bush, Condoleezza Rice and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft approving the 'enhanced' interrogation techniques, including water boarding."

According to my man Republican United States Senator John McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and locked in a goddamn cage with a tiger, waterboarding is "torture", "no different than holding a pistol to his head and firing a blank" and can damage the subject's psyche "in ways that may never heal."

Waterboarding has become an issue in the nomination of Michael B. Mukasey to be the next U.S. Attorney General. In his Senate confirmation hearing, Mukasey refused to say if he considered waterboarding a form of torture, claiming he did not know the details of how waterboarding was conducted. Several Senators have indicated they will not vote for him without an affirmative answer.

It's kind of like a medieval dunk tank sans the funnel cake.

The waterboarding technique was characterised in 2005 by former CIA director Porter J. Goss as a "professional interrogation technique."

According to press accounts, a cloth or plastic wrap is placed over or in the person's mouth, and water is poured on to the person's head. As far as the details of this technique, press accounts differ - one article describes "dripping water into a wet cloth over a suspects face", another states that "cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him."

Two televised segments, one from Fox News and one from Current TV, demonstrate a waterboarding technique that may be the subject of these press descriptions. In the videos, each correspondent is held against a board by the interrogators. In the Current TV segment, a rag is then forced into the correspondent's mouth, and several pitchers of water are poured onto the rag. The interrogators periodically remove the rag, and the correspondent is seen to gasp for breath.

The Fox News segment mentions five "phases" of which the first three are shown. In the first phase, water is simply poured onto the correspondent's face. The second phase is similar to the Current TV episode. In phase three, plastic wrap is placed over the correspondent's face, and a hole is poked into it over his mouth. Water is poured into his mouth through the hole, causing him to gag. He mentions that it really does cause him to gag; that it could lead to asphyxiation; and that he could stand it for only a few seconds.

CIA officers who have subjected themselves to the technique last an average of 14 seconds before caving in.

Poorly executed waterboarding can cause extreme pain and damage to the lungs, brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation, and sometimes broken bones because of the restraints applied to the struggling victim. The psychological effects can last long after waterboarding ends. Prolonged waterboarding can also cause death.

Dr. Allen Keller, the director of the Bellevue NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, has treated "a number of people" who had been subjected to forms of near-asphyxiation, including waterboarding. An interview for The New Yorker states, "he argued that it was indeed torture, 'Some victims were still traumatised years later', he said. One patient couldn't take showers, and panicked when it rained. 'The fear of being killed is a terrifying experience,' he said." Ya think, Al?

Proponents argue that the technique effectively produces information while only being used as a last resort to obtain critical information. They also argue that there is almost no risk of long-term bodily harm.

Opponents argue that this information may not be reliable because a person under such duress may admit to anything. The UN Convention Against Torture, which the United States ratified in 1994, says "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture." Former CIA officer Bob Baer states that waterboarding is "bad interrogation. I mean you can get anyone to confess to anything if the torture's bad enough."

Waterboarding throughout history

During the Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834, with its most active period from 1480-1530), a form of torture similar to waterboarding called toca, along with garrucha (or strappado) and the most frequently used potro (or the rack), was used (though infrequently) during the trial portion of the Spanish Inquisition process. Quoting from the article: The toca, also called tortura del agua, consisted of introducing a cloth into the mouth of the victim, and forcing them to ingest water spilled from a jar so that they had the impression of drowning.

During Colonial Times agents of the Dutch East India Company used a precursor to waterboarding during the Amboyna massacre of 1623. At that time, it consisted of wrapping cloth around a victim's head, after which the torturers "poured the water softly upon his head until the cloth was full, up to the mouth and nostrils, and somewhat higher, so that he could not draw breath but he must suck in all the water." In one case, the torturer applied water three or four times successively until the victim's "body was swollen twice or thrice as big as before, his cheeks like great bladders, and his eyes staring and strutting out beyond his forehead."

During World War II, Japanese troops, as well the Gestapo, the German secret police, used waterboarding as a method of torture. The German technique was called the German equivalent of "u-boat". During the Double Tenth Incident, waterboarding consisted of binding or holding down the victim on his back, placing a cloth over his mouth and nose, and pouring water onto the cloth. In this version, interrogation continued during the torture, with the interrogators beating the victim if he did not reply and the victim swallowing water if he opened his mouth to answer or breathe. When the victim could ingest no more water, the interrogators would beat or jump on his distended stomach.

In 1968, during the Vietnam War, the Washington Post published a controversial photograph of American soldiers waterboarding a North Vietnamese POW near Da Nang.

From FOX News...
Video: Waterboarding Demo
Video: Waterboarding Part II
Video: Waterboarding Part III

From Gawker...
One of Al Gore's boys from Current TV got waterboarded. I'd issue a disclaimer about the video but really any of you who've ever set foot in a leather bar (which is most of you) have seen much worse. {Huffington Post}

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