Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Waterboarding: Three Reasons Why the Practice Should be Banned Forever.

Herman Cain and Michelle Bachman support military torture! Ladies and gents, this is no spin because both candidates recently made statements in support of the practice and even criticized President Obama for imposing a ban. Here's a look at their positions:

             Herman Cain
At the GOP Presidential Debate on November 12, 2011, Cain stated that although he is “against torture,” he does not consider waterboarding to be torture. Instead he chose to play on words, (and our intelligence) and called it an "enhanced interrogation technique.” Uh, Mr. Cain, that is CIA code for torture.

                                           Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann, took her statement a step further, calling waterboarding “effective,” and stated that she would reinstitute its practice if she were to ever become President. Well, let’s hope that day never comes because it would mark the end of American exceptionalism as we know it. But before I get into to dangers of using waterboarding as an interrogation technique, let me give you a little background on the practice.

             History of waterboarding
Artist rendition of waterboarding
Now in light of the recent “War on Terror,” I know many of you have heard about waterboarding ad nauseum. But what the heck is waterboarding? Well, let me give you a visual. Waterboarding is a practice of pouring water over the face of a strapped in captive, causing the individual to experience the sensation of breathing under water.  In no uncertain terms, waterboarding is simulated drowning.

Now there are various techniques that captors use when waterboarding a captive, but most common is the practice of covering the captive's face with cloth or some other thin material, and immobilizing him/her on his/her back. Captors then pour water on the person’s face, specifically over the mouth and nose, which causes an immediate gag reflex and choking, and effectively creates the sensation that the person is drowning.

Spanish Inquisition torture chamber
Waterboarding causes extreme pain and can cause “dry drowning,” which occurs when a person's lungs cannot extract oxygen from the air.  In addition, it can damage the lungs and the brain based on the lack of oxygen.  Adding to the barbaric act, captives sometimes break their bones or cause other injuries while struggling to gasp for air.  This is in addition to psychological trauma that may manifest days, months, or even years after the experience.  Use of waterboarding goes back as far as the Flemish Inquisition (Mid 1500s). The practice continued throughout the world from the colonial period (Early 1600s) through the Spanish Inquisition (Late 1400s to the Early 1800s).

Japanese troops waterboarding a captive.
In the late 1800s, the US Army dabbled with the practice during the Spanish-American War and waterboarded prisoners in the Philippines. In the good ole’ state of Mississippi, instances of waterboarding were reported as late as the 20th century. Ironically, in World War II, Japanese troops used waterboarding on Allied troops and were subsequently tried and hung.

Now that you have the history of the practice, here are my arguments for banning it permanently as an American  interrogation technique.

I.                  I. Waterboarding is minimally effective as an interrogation method.
Dick Cheney and former CIA Director George Tenet told everyone that would listen that waterboarding led to the capture of 9/11 criminals and terrorists, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks.  Cheney’s Administration still stands behind what it did, even if it made the US the biggest hypocrite nation ever.  In fact, Tenet wrote in his memoirs that the technique has thwarted over 20 additional attacks “against US infrastructure targets.”  Of course, "President" Cheney stated several times that he was a "supporter of waterboarding."

Waterboarding simply gets a captive to talk.  And believe me, they will talk. Whether a low-level carrier or a high-ranking member of Al-quaida, captives will say anything and everything to get captors to stop.  Now you might extract relevant information from a suspect during waterboarding but chances are you will get any story he can concoct.

Additionally, although classified, the CIA manual on interrogation techniques gives complete instructions on how to extract information from prisoners. Though the techniques aren’t what you would call fun, they are VERY effective at getting information.  Besides, under President Obama, our armed forces located and killed Osama Bin Laden and Anwar Al-awlaki without waterboarding anyone.  In short, you don’t have to torture to extract information.

II. Waterboarding is forbidden under the Geneva Conventions.

In The Geneva Conventions, which the US has subscribed to and wholeheartedly enforces against other nations, specifically defines torture as:
"Torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession..."         
as       As you read in the description of waterboarding above, waterboarding is absolutely torture.  Under this definition, militaries are not even supposed to use the threat of torture.  A former military officer myself, I can tell you that I was completely and utterly embarrassed to hear "President" Dick Cheney and other GOP leadership celebrate waterboarding and then deem it "effective."  

III. Waterboarding prisoners encourages nations to torture our troops.

Our soldiers fight all over the world, even if only a few of the missions are ever publicized. Many times our soldiers get captured in foreign nations. In fact, it happens quite often. Now what happens when say, Iran or North Korea gets ahold of one of our soldiers, uses waterboarding to extract information from them and then kills them or causes permanent psychological damage? That’s right, you guessed it. Based on former Vice President Cheney’s definition, those countries’ actions would have been completely legal. (See the Bybee Memo:

Keep in mind that for many countries, capturing American soldiers is the Holy Grail of combat; allowing such a practice basically gives them a license to torture our soldiers.  What's to stop them from referring back to medievil forms of torture? (See  How could we then hold them accountable?

Our country has stood out front when it comes to treatment of foreign troops. For years, we were the stalwart defenders of the Geneva Conventions and its rules of war. If we don’t lead from the front and enforce it, even when it does not benefit us, who will? I believe one of President Obama’s most important actions was to ban waterboarding as soon as he took office. I can only hope and pray that for our sake, and for the sake of our children, not to mention for the sake of our troops, it stays that way.


1. What is your take on the Bush Administration’s justification of waterboarding?

2. Do you think the US should use waterboarding to extract information from prisoners in any scenario?

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