“The victim is drowning”

Water boarding instructional painting, Cambodia

Go read this important posting at Small Wars Journal, by Malcolm Nance, a former Master Instructor and Chief of Training at the US Navy’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School (SERE) in San Diego. “I know the waterboard personally and intimately,” he writes. “SERE staff were required undergo the waterboard at its fullest. I was no exception. I have personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people.” Nance demolishes the media myth that water boarding is merely “simulated drowning”:

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.

Nance is outraged at America’s loss of honour in condoning the use of such torture, and warns that President Bush’s policies have validated and legitimized this torture technique for foreign governments and terrorist groups:

There may never again be a chance that Americans will benefit from the shield of outrage and public opinion when our future enemy uses torture. Brutal interrogation, flash murder and extreme humiliation of American citizens, agents and members of the armed forces may now be guaranteed because we have mindlessly, but happily, broken the seal on the Pandora’s box of indignity, cruelty and hatred in the name of protecting America. To defeat Bin Laden many in this administration have openly embraced the methods of Hitler, Pinochet, Pol Pot, Galtieri and Saddam Hussein.

His is a powerful and disturbing article.

Another voice. In an article based in part on Nance’s posting, The Independent quotes journalist Henri Alleg, who was subjected to water boarding by French forces in Algeria in 1957:

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.”

CIA director Michael Hayden has claimed that interrogation methods inducing the fear of imminent death have been used on only 30 suspects held by the United States. If that is true, then there are, at minimum, 30 war crimes charges waiting to be lodged against the director of the CIA and other high officials of the United States government, including the president himself. America should brook no delay; she has her honour to save.

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6 Comments

Filed under Foreign Affairs

6 responses to ““The victim is drowning”

  1. how can a country like the U.S, supposedly the paragon of civilization by it’s own myths, come to a public debate on whether torture is or is not torture? i.e, arguing a tautology?

    it boggles my mind, which doesn’t really need it 😦

  2. I’m equally boggled, AIF. It’s horribly sad to see the United States turn into a test case that demonstrates just how fragile our Enlightenment values are, and just how easily a country that uses “live free or die” as one of its most enduring catch-phrases can give up its own beliefs in exchange for a mere feeling of safety.

    There’s hope, though. The existence of the debate itself, and of a level of media and cultural opposition that has only gradually emerged out of silence, makes me feel that the American soul has not been lost.

  3. Jesse Copeland

    The United States should have the right to water board terrorists. These are evil people that will stop at nothing to destroy inoccent lives. I would like to see us go beyond water boarding if that is what it takes to get the scum bags to give up information. In my opinion, these people are the worst of the worst!! I would not trade one american life for a million of these islamic fascists. They have no respect for our prisoners of war so why should we have any respect for them. As long as we dont kill them we should do the next best thing to killing them…and that is make them feel like they are dying. I mean come on..its not like we our cutting off their heads and videotaping it praising allah! These people are not human, they are evil trapped in human skin. I just wish that the United States would let me interrigate them, I might just make them drink enough water to make there faces turn blue and there body go limp for good. I have no simpathy at all for scum bags like this and to call yourself an American…u shouldnt either! 9/11 people lets never forget it!

  4. Jesse: I think a big problem with your approach — quite apart from its immorality — is that it enables jihadists to tell potential recruits the very same things about America: that it tortures its prisoners and destroys innocent lives. That’s a defeat, not a victory.

  5. Robyn Goodfellow

    I am sorry, so sorry…

  6. MITCH CUMSTEIN

    IF IT SAVES AMERICAN LIVES USE IT. THE TERRORIST RAPE AND SODOMIZE FEMALE MILITARY FOLKS. THEY BREAK BONES. THEY BEAT AND CAUSE PERMINATE DAMAGE…EVEN IF YOU ‘BREAK’ AND GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT, THEY STILL TORTURE YOU.
    WATER BOARDING IS NOT TORTURE. IT IS A DEVICE USED TO EXTRACT INFORMATION FROM PEOPLE TRYING TO KILL US.
    THE TERRORIST SAYS ‘STOP’ AND THE PROCEDURE ENDS…THEY TALK..THEY STAY DRY…PERIOD!
    THERE IS NOTHING TO BE SORRY ABOUT OTHER THAN WE DONT USE IT ON EVERYONE WHO IS AGAINST US.
    WOULD YOU BE WILLING TO USE IT IF A MAN HAD KIDNAPED A CHILD AND BURRIED HER ALIVE AFTER RAPING HER. TO SAVE HER LIFE????
    WHY NOT USE IT FOR SAVING HUNDREDS…THOUSANDS OF AMERICAN LIVES…
    DOESNT ANYONE REMEMBER SEPT 11?????????????

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