A bit more on waterboarding

As a follow-up to this post, I bring you these videos:

Getting Waterboarded

Getting Waterboarded Uncut Version

This is a variation on those “I was tasered!” videos. The correspondent hired professional interrogators to waterboard him, so that the process could be videoed.

You know, I was going to put a warning here about how there’s the use of language in the second video and that I haven’t watched it all the way through to know exactly what gets said.

But then I realized, “Dummy! Someone is being tortured in this video! Maybe that should be the shocking thing, hmm?

This is what is being done to protect your freedom. What do you think of that?

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3 responses to “A bit more on waterboarding

  • Joshua

    I prefer feet tickling and playing a Barbara Streisand CD. That would be much more efficient in stopping terrorist attacks.

    I have to say I was unimpressed with the video. If hardcore terrorists break and give valuable information in 30-90 seconds (which is documented), how did a Journalist last 25 minutes?

    Also, I don’t know if the journalist is affiliated with current.com – but isn’t that Al Gore’s internet baby? Seems to be a bit of a conflict in interest.

    I don’t think anyone knows how often this technique is used, but I suspect it’s used in instances where we know the individual is a high ranking member of Al Qaeda. It’s not like this technique is applied to someone we think is shoplifting – these are people captured on the battlefield or, I suspect, are known terrorists. How do we extract the information they have which could prevent the saving of *innocent* lives? This isn’t a hypothetical thing either…we really do prevent attacks with this information.

    Let’s take KSM for example. He planned the murder of 3000+ Americans and others. You’re saying we shouldn’t have splashed water on his face to the extent that he was afraid he was going to die in order to determine valuable information on the network who proved it’s capibility to bring about mass murder?

    We did extract information from KSM that prevented innocent lives from being taken, and I don’t lose sleep over the psychological ramifications of splashing water on his face.

    I could be wrong.

  • Seth Ben-Ezra

    (For those tuning in, Joshua also left a comment over here. I’ll address all my points in comments under

    this post, but I didn’t want Joshua’s other comment to get lost.)

    Hi, Joshua!

    First, I’m going to note that the individual in the video is an ex-SEAL. This isn’t just a journalist. For comparison, here’s a quote from ABC News:

    According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda’s toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.

    Maybe CIA interrogators are better than the ones on the video. Who knows?

    Second, I’m not really interested in debating the provenance of this video, unless it’s a fake. Let’s assume for the sake of the argument that it’s a real video. My point in showing it is to give people a good look at this torture technique.

    Third, let’s pull together some descriptions of what waterboarding does.

    From Wikipedia:

    In contrast to merely submerging the head, waterboarding elicits the gag reflex, and can make the subject believe death is imminent.

    From Human Rights Watch:

    Waterboarding is torture. It causes severe physical suffering in the form of reflexive choking, gagging, and the feeling of suffocation. It may cause severe pain in some cases. If uninterrupted, waterboarding will cause death by suffocation. It is also foreseeable that waterboarding, by producing an experience of drowning, will cause severe mental pain and suffering. The technique is a form of mock execution by suffocation with water. The process incapacitates the victim from drawing breath, and causes panic, distress, and terror of imminent death. Many victims of waterboarding suffer prolonged mental harm for years and even decades afterward.

    Waterboarding, when used against people captured in the context of war, may also amount to a war crime as defined under the federal war crimes statute 18 U.S.C. § 2441, which criminalizes grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions (in international armed conflicts), and violations of Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions (in non-international armed conflicts). Waterboarding is also an assault, and thus violates the federal assault statute, 18 U.S.C. § 113, when it occurs in the “special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States,” a jurisdictional area which includes government installations overseas. In cases involving the U.S. armed forces, waterboarding also amounts to assault, and cruelty and maltreatment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

    From Malcom Nance, advisor on terrorism to the Department of Homeland Security (text from The Independent):

    In a further embarrassment for Mr Bush yesterday, Malcolm Nance, an advisor on terrorism to the US departments of Homeland Security, Special Operations and Intelligence, publicly denounced the practice. He revealed that waterboarding is used in training at the US Navy’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School in San Diego, and claimed to have witnessed and supervised “hundreds” of waterboarding exercises. Although these last only a few minutes and take place under medical supervision, he concluded that “waterboarding is a torture technique – period”.

    The practice involves strapping the person being interrogated on to a board as pints of water are forced into his lungs through a cloth covering his face while the victim’s mouth is forced open. Its effect, according to Mr Nance, is a process of slow-motion suffocation.Typically, a victim goes into hysterics on the board as water fills his lungs. “How much the victim is to drown,” Mr Nance wrote in an article for the Small Wars Journal, “depends on the desired result 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. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch.”

    From Henri Alleg (text from The Independent):

    Henri Alleg, a journalist, was tortured in 1957 by French forces in Algeria. He described the ordeal of water torture in his book The Question. Soldiers strapped him over a plank, wrapped his head in cloth and positioned it beneath a running tap. He recalled: “The rag was soaked rapidly. Water flowed everywhere: in my mouth, in my nose, all over my face. But for a while I could still breathe in some small gulps of air. I tried, by contracting my throat, to take in as little water as possible and to resist suffocation by keeping air in my lungs for as long as I could. But I couldn’t hold on for more than a few moments. I had the impression of drowning, and a terrible agony, that of death itself, took possession of me. In spite of myself, all the muscles of my body struggled uselessly to save me from suffocation. In spite of myself, the fingers of both my hands shook uncontrollably. ‘That’s it! He’s going to talk,’ said a voice.

    The water stopped running and they took away the rag. I was able to breathe. In the gloom, I saw the lieutenants and the captain, who, with a cigarette between his lips, was hitting my stomach with his fist to make me throw out the water I had swallowed.”

    From ABC News:

    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.

    As an aside, check out the other practices described in the ABC News articles. If our soldiers were subjected to this treatment when captured by the enemy, we would be outraged.

    All of this to say, waterboarding is not merely “splashing some water on [someone’s] face”, as you say. Let’s not minimize the pain and suffering caused by this practice.

    Fourth, we do not use pragmatic results to justify our actions. Is this sort of treatment of our enemies justified by Scripture? If not, then it does not matter how many lives were saved; it was still an act of wickedness.

    Fifth, even if we examine the pragmatic results, we find that they are flawed. It is common knowledge that torture often produces poor results. To quote from that ABC News story:

    According to CIA sources, Ibn al Shaykh al Libbi, after two weeks of enhanced interrogation, made statements that were designed to tell the interrogators what they wanted to hear. Sources say Al Libbi had been subjected to each of the progressively harsher techniques in turn and finally broke after being water boarded and then left to stand naked in his cold cell overnight where he was doused with cold water at regular intervals.

    His statements became part of the basis for the Bush administration claims that Iraq trained al Qaeda members to use biochemical weapons. Sources tell ABC that it was later established that al Libbi had no knowledge of such training or weapons and fabricated the statements because he was terrified of further harsh treatment.

    “This is the problem with using the waterboard. They get so desperate that they begin telling you what they think you want to hear,” one source said.

    However, sources said, al Libbi does not appear to have sought to intentionally misinform investigators, as at least one account has stated. The distinction in this murky world is nonetheless an important one. Al Libbi sought to please his investigators, not lead them down a false path, two sources with firsthand knowledge of the statements said.

    This merely confirms my prior understanding of the efficacy of torture.

    But what do the Scriptures say?

    Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21)

    In closing, I leave you with this story from the Israel-Lebanon war in 2006 (from Christianity Today):

    Costa recounted a story involving a Baptist youth minister who met the father of a 17-year-old Shiite youth killed in an Israeli air strike on a southern Beirut suburb. During the burial ceremony, Israeli jets attacked the funeral procession and sent mourners scurrying to safety.

    Later, the father asked the youth minister, “Why are Christians helping Muslims?”

    The minister shared the story of the Good Samaritan and asked, “Who was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

    The father responded, “The one who had mercy on him.”

    The youth minister then recited the words of Jesus in Matthew 5: “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

    Touched, the father of the deceased boy said, “We have many Christian friends. But we never knew that you have these teachings.”

    Do we want to win the battle for “hearts and minds”? Then that is where we start.

  • Joshua

    I can think of a compromise in two words: Bob Newhart.

    BN: So, uh, you’re the uh mastermind of the uh, nine eleven attack on…the…uh, twin towers and the uh…the pentagon?
    KSM: Allah Akbar!
    BN: Now uh, ca-calm down…there’s no reason to get uh, uh….upset. So…you like to kill infidels?
    KSM: Allah Akbar, infidels!
    BN: I’m going to have to ask you, uh, to refrain from the, uh, apparent religious uh intolerance. Now, can you please uh, tell me why you feel the need to, you know, blow up innocent people and cut off their, uh, heads?
    KSM: Uba duba dubaa akla mar hussein blah blah.
    BN: Right. Well. I have a message for you, that I’d like you to listen to, and take to heart. Please pass on to your brothers. STOP IT! Just STOP IT! Stop …blowing people up…and…cutting off their heads. That’s disgusting. So, just STOP IT! Ok? You’re sick.
    KSM: Well…I never thought of it that way. Thanks.

    (I’ll respond more later)

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