Is waterboarding torture? You decide.

I’ve spent a little time here on Blogging Blue talking about waterboarding, and I’ve made it clear I believe waterboarding is torture. I’ve read the argument that waterboarding can’t be torture since it’s used to train American military forces in SERE training, and I’ve also read the argument that waterboarding isn’t torture because it’s “a technique that is so common and accepted,” but I still haven’t changed my mind, and here’s why:

Water boarding was designated as illegal by U.S. generals in Vietnam 40 years ago. A photograph that appeared in The Washington Post of a U.S. soldier involved in water boarding a North Vietnamese prisoner in 1968 led to that soldier’s severe punishment.

“The soldier who participated in water torture in January 1968 was court-martialed within one month after the photos appeared in The Washington Post, and he was drummed out of the Army,” recounted Darius Rejali, a political science professor at Reed College.

So here’s three facts:

  1. Our military prosecuted several Japanese soldiers after World War II for using waterboarding against American and Allied troops.
  2. As recently as the Vietname War, our military has court-martialed its own soldiers who have engaged in waterboarding against our enemies.
  3. Army Field Manual 2-22.3, issued in 2006, explicitly prohibits the use of “waterboarding” as a prohibited action during intelligence interrogations.

Given those two incontrovertible facts, I’d like to hear someone explain how waterboarding was illegal in the past, but has now become perfectly legal as a method of “interrogation” by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Remember, Article 1 of the Geneva Convention Against Torture defines torture as, “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, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

That’s a rather wordy definition, but keep it in mind as you watch this video of waterboarding being performed (the actual waterboarding starts at 2:50 into the video):

So here’s my questions: how can any reasonable person think waterboarding as a means of interrogation isn’t meant to inflict severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, on the subject of the waterboarding? What’s more, how can waterboarding be considered a prohibited interrogation technique by the United States Army, while on the other hand being perfectly legal as an interrogation technique for intelligence agencies?


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2 thoughts on “Is waterboarding torture? You decide.

  1. I think waterboarding is a means of interrogation that is meant to inflict severe pain or suffering, however it isn’t consider to be torture under the law which is what matters.

    As far as the cases in Japan and Vietnam it’s *how* they waterboarded.

    I briefly met a man (10 years ago) who was in the CIA (so I was told) and I got the impression from him the CIA did/does a lot worse than waterboarding, at least during the time he was with the CIA which was about 30-40 years ago. He was retired in his 60’s when I met him. Sometimes I really rather not know what they are doing but then sometimes I do. I can see both sides. The retired CIA agent I met really had issues though. He had a hard time coming to terms with the things he did and the things he witness.

  2. This reminds me of one of my favorite jodies (aka songs to keep cadence while running/marching): “Here we go again…doin the same old things again.”

    #1 is irrelevant, because the waterboarding was different. If the SERE/CIA method was done with a steady stream or done to the point of passing out, then I may agree with you.

    #2 is irrelevant, because the waterboarding was also different.

    #3 is irrelevant, because of it’s intended audience. It really matters very little that it’s not condoned in the “Field”.

    The SERE/CIA method does not rise to the defined level of “severe” pain or suffering because we have done essentially the same procedure to thousands and thousands of our own troops. It is so lienient and so gentle and so safe that by definition, it can NOT be severe.

    Yes it likely invigorated our enemies. Yes the intelligence gained from it is often suspect. Yes we may have lost some moral high ground. Yes we probably should not have done it and yes the POLICY decision to stop it was a good call. BUT it was NOT illegal.

    To baselessly repeatedly claim that it was illegal can only be petty petty politics. “tsk tsk” *a finger wave* and a “Shame, shame”…

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