Friday, November 02, 2007

Torture is torture – there is no such thing as “simulated” drowning

There is no such thing as “simulated” drowning. Drowning is drowning. Some people die and some people survive but in either case the lungs fill with water and the body is denied oxygen. The process is extremely painful. Waterboarding is a torture technique that uses drowning to inflict pain on a victim strapped down and unable to protect himself. There is no debate this is a torture technique except by torture apologists.

It is also fair to say that the excuse of intelligence gathering to conduct this and other types of torture is a façade. The intelligence gained is usually of questionable value. The real purpose of torture is to inflict pain on people the torturer despises for whatever reason. This isn’t to say victims are necessarily innocent people -- they may be despicable characters – but the act of torture dehumanizes those who do it or tolerate it.

Malcolm W. Nance is a counter-terrorism and terrorism intelligence consultant for the U.S. government’s Special Operations, Homeland Security and Intelligence agencies. He is an experienced intelligence interrogator and has undergone waterboarding himself during a military training. He speaks with some authority on the use of technique and was a guest yesterday on NPR’s Day to Day program talking about torture. He is a contributor to Small Wars Journal and published a piece on waterboarding on that publication’s blog. The following are excerpts:
1. Waterboarding is a torture technique. Period. There is no way to gloss over it or sugarcoat it. It has no justification outside of its limited role as a training demonstrator. Our service members have to learn that the will to survive requires them accept and understand that they may be subjected to torture, but that America is better than its enemies and it is one’s duty to trust in your nation and God, endure the hardships and return home with honor.

2. Waterboarding is not a simulation. Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.

Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim’s face) 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.

Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration –usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten with its use again and again.

Call it “Chinese Water Torture,” “the Barrel,” or “the Waterfall,” it is all the same. Whether the victim is allowed to comply or not is usually left up to the interrogator. Many waterboard team members, even in training, enjoy the sadistic power of making the victim suffer and often ask questions as an after thought. These people are dangerous and predictable and when left unshackled, unsupervised or undetected they bring us the murderous abuses seen at Abu Ghraieb, Baghram and Guantanamo. No doubt, to avoid human factors like fear and guilt someone has created a one-button version that probably looks like an MRI machine with high intensity waterjets.

3. If you support the use of waterboarding on enemy captives, you support the use of that torture on any future American captives. The Small Wars Council had a spirited discussion about this earlier in the year, especially when former Marine Generals Krulak and Hoar rejected all arguments for torture.

Evan Wallach wrote a
brilliant history of the use of waterboarding as a war crime and the open acceptance of it by the administration in an article for Columbia Journal for Transnational Law. In it he describes how the ideological Justice Department lawyer, John Yoo validated the current dilemma we find ourselves in by asserting that the President had powers above and beyond the Constitution and the Congress:

“Congress doesn’t have the power to tie the President’s hands in regard to torture as an interrogation technique....It’s the core of the Commander-in-Chief function. They can’t prevent the President from ordering torture.”

That is an astounding assertion. It reflects a basic disregard for the law of the United States, the Constitution and basic moral decency.

Another MSNBC commentator defended the administration and stated that waterboarding is "not a new phenomenon" and that it had "been pinned on President Bush … but this has been part of interrogation for years and years and years." He is correct, but only partially. The Washington Post reported in 2006 that it was mainly America’s enemies that used it as a principal interrogation method. After World War 2, Japanese waterboard team members were tried for war crimes. In Vietnam, service members were placed under investigation when a photo of a field-expedient waterboarding became publicly known.

Torture in captivity simulation training reveals there are ways an enemy can inflict punishment which will render the subject wholly helpless and which will generally overcome his willpower. The torturer will trigger within the subject a survival instinct, in this case the ability to breathe, which makes the victim instantly pliable and ready to comply. It is purely and simply a tool by which to deprive a human being of his ability to resist through physical humiliation. The very concept of an American Torturer is an anathema to our values.

I concur strongly with the opinions of professional interrogators like Colonel Stewart Herrington, and victims of torture like Senator John McCain. If you want consistent, accurate and reliable intelligence, be inquisitive, analytical, patient but most of all professional, amiable and compassionate.

Who will complain about the new world-wide embrace of torture? America has justified it legally at the highest levels of government. Even worse, the administration has selectively leaked supposed successes of the water board such as the alleged Khalid Sheik Mohammed confessions. However, in the same breath the CIA sources for the Washington Post noted that in Mohammed’s case they got information but "not all of it reliable." Of course, when you waterboard you get all the magic answers you want -because remember, the subject will talk. They all talk! Anyone strapped down will say anything, absolutely anything to get the torture to stop. Torture. Does. Not. Work.

According to the President, this is not a torture, so future torturers in other countries now have an American legal basis to perform the acts. Every hostile intelligence agency and terrorist in the world will consider it a viable tool, which can be used with impunity. It has been turned into perfectly acceptable behavior for information finding.

A torture victim can be made to say anything by an evil nation that does not abide by humanity, morality, treaties or rule of law. Today we are on the verge of becoming that nation. Is it possible that September 11 hurt us so much that we have decided to gladly adopt the tools of KGB, the Khmer Rouge, the Nazi Gestapo, the North Vietnamese, the North Koreans and the Burmese Junta?

What next if the waterboarding on a critical the captive doesn’t work and you have a timetable to stop the “ticking bomb” scenario? Electric shock to the genitals? Taking a pregnant woman and electrocuting the fetus inside her? Executing a captive’s children in front of him? Dropping live people from an airplane over the ocean? It has all been done by governments seeking information. All claimed the same need to stop the ticking bomb. It is not a far leap from torture to murder, especially if the subject is defiant. Are we willing to trade our nation’s soul for tactical intelligence?
You can read the entire article here.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the time to write this piece; very informative.

Anonymous said...


It is not just a hearsay but has been confirmed in fact,
The USA, if never stated plainly,
Engages now in torture which nobody can redact,
Though prospects seem to rationalists ungainly.

"You see it places greater risk upon our boys abroad,
Soldiers when they are captured--to be tortured.
A split in the Geneva bill because my nation´s fraud
Must broaden save the broken thing get sutured."

Thus goes the argument; but others turn away their eyes,
Refusing to admit--since time of Adam--
What has of war been hallmark: virtue tends to compromise,
Warmongers clientele of some great Madam.

Raping and looting, deeds of such barbarity have gone
As hand in hand with conquest since before
The modern age: atrocity is what all wars have done,
Yet shillers look away who shill for war.

This understated policy--my country as did not
Engage in torture in its previous life--
Has put it in position shitting on and off the pot,
And there are many uses for a knife.

The information as obtained from torture, often wrong,
Is like the names obtained when there´s a witch-hunt,
As persons "idealistic" when hysteria comes along
So even poodles will call out a dachshund.

Yet so it goes with progress: we accept the agonies
As go with war inflicting needless extras,
Barbarians so many yet so few Antigones
So we become in torture ambidextrous.

The hand that signed the paper and the citizens who read
Give tacit understanding, all complicit,
So taking three steps backward two steps forward we proceed,
It´s not our conscience bears the blade, now is it?