Is Waterboarding Torture?

The one year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden has come and gone.  Information leading to his whereabouts was obtained through enhanced interrogation techniques.  Now, President Obama has decried the use of waterboarding, but is quite happy with himself for the results of the technique.

1. The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs  the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.

2. 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. Long Time 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. Water Boarding: 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 former CIA Director of Clandestine Service, Jose Rodriguez, waterboarding is definitely not torture, and I agree.  After watching it done and reading detailed descriptions of the EIT, I don’t think it fits the definition of torture.

(Newsbusters) – I have no second thoughts, and they should not be equated with torture. And that  is a myth that has gone on for too long, and one of the reasons why I wrote this  book was to set the record straight. All of this was authorized by our  government, was certified as legal by Justice, and was briefed to the Congress.  So, you know, it’s pretty straightforward.

Again, I don’t believe waterboarding is torture, but many people do.  Even politicians who now decry the Bush administration’s use of waterboarding to extract key information about future terror plots once supported its use in the months following the September 11th attacks.

For the sake of argument, let’s agree that waterboarding is torture.  Is it permissible to use this technique that the three (yes, only three) Guantanamo prisoners were subjected to in order to thwart future terrorist attacks against American citizens to save their lives?  I think so.  It boils down to the greater good and the lesser evil.  To gain information that could save dozens or thousands of lives, and for what, subjecting a terrorist to a simulated drowning.  Is a utilitarian approach to this morally justified?  I think the trade-off is just.


Tortured, or uncomfortable?


  1. In my book, torture has to cause damage. Just psyching someone out isn’t torture.

  2. Marshall Art says:

    I don’t think the issue should be whether we should use torture, that a particular technique may or may not be so defined. Listening to Cindy Sheehan talk is tortorous and to be forced to do so is definitely torture in my book. Physical or psychological damage, be it temporary or lasting, is also not a concern. The concern must be the intention behind using it and whether or not there is justification to believe the person on whom torture is inflicted has information he would not otherwise yield. (This, of course, would be info that could save lives if given up by the prisoner)

    One lefty blogger likes to bring up the idea of “returning evil for evil”. But evil is not just an action. It must be the result of evil intention. I don’t believe that we torture for the fun of seeing the subject suffer. THAT would be evil. But if the subject is an enemy with info of planned evil against innocent or unsuspecting allies or civilians, the intention is obviously to prevent that evil from being inflicted. The greater the evil intended to be perpetrated, the less evil is the “torture” inflicted, regardless of how much suffering the prisoner must endure, including lasting physical or psychological damage.

    • But Marshall

      Is there an implicit approval by refusing to give information. As in, if you give us accurate information to our questions this will not happen. The process will stop as soon as you comply. In the same way suspects do not give their approval to police officers who are using force to make an arrest. The force would not have happened or will stop if the suspect is in compliance with orders. Otherwise on your definition the police are torturing every suspect with whom they use physical force in order to affect an arrest. No?

  3. Marshall Art says:

    In addition, my above comment explains why I don’t worry about the question, “Is waterboarding ‘torture’?” I think it is because the subject isn’t agreeing to endure the discomfort. The level of discomfort is not the issue. Being forced to endure whatever level of discomfort is offered is the issue in defining “torture”. I simply don’t care if a terrorist is forced to go through such an ordeal. It kinda goes with being a scumbag.

  4. Marshall Art says:

    Yes. But that’s my point. It is viewed as torture or evil by the person enduring the suffering. The suspect arrested feels put upon for sure. Who cares? He broke the law. It is not visiting evil upon the arrested simply because he then suffers some level of discomfort. He is the evil doer or he would not have been arrested. His discomfort is irrelevant to the procurement of justice.

    But while it can be said that the criminal or terrorist “asked for it”, I don’t know if we can call it “approval” that they give. However, we all know there are consequences to every action we take. Engaging in criminal activity does suggest that the criminal or terrorist is giving approval for the suffering they will endure if caught. I say, why deny them what they seem to want so badly? The terrorist who seems certain to have info regardlng plans for more death and destruction is plain begging for torture if they refuse to comply with demands for that info. The suffering of one scumbag versus the deaths of innocent civilians? No question, and no guilt about what lengths good men might have to go to prevent those deaths. Do the ends justify the means? In such a case? Damn right they do.

  5. Waterboarding is not equivalent to what the terrorists have done to others, but it is torture. For the most part it is designed to keep the prisoner alive for “future use” unlike many other forms of torture.

    Waterboarding is not a new technique by any stretch of the means. It has been around for quite a long time to effectively get the desired information. That’s why the goverment decided to rely upon it, and no doubt it was not the first time either.

    • Eugine

      I don’t always compare us to them, but sometimes I do think it is relevant. But here I think water boarding has gotten a bad name. The media and a political party simply began calling it torture knowing the Japanese used a technique also called water boarding that is actually torture. Everyone was for it before the heart ache of 9/11 wore off. Democrats are on record–in reference to waterboarding–asking if we were doing enough.

      I hate that this tool has been taken out of the belt, and we are killing them instead. But what can you do.

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