PolySciFi Blog

Saturday, January 15, 2005


Waterboard This!

Waterboarding is not telling a prisoner that they might drown. Nor is it simulating drowning. It is tying a prisoner to a board and repeatedly dunking them underwater, either doing it repeatedly for short intervals or holding them underwater for long intervals. Jody, you were a lifeguard for a long time; did you ever get held under for too long when playing around in the pool? You remember that feeling of terror you get when you're out of air and can't get to the surface? Not "are a long way from the surface" or "are trying to stay under longer" but "someone is holding you under the water." I remember that as being really horrifying, and I had no reasonable fear that I would not be allowed to the surface.

If you'd like to see film of waterboarding in action, you can check out Conspiracy Theory, or for a more traditional version, the dunking stool in Quills.

Your definition of torture seems carefully crafted to rule out waterboarding. Let's look at the American Heritage dictionary: the relevant definition of torture is:
  1. Infliction of severe physical pain as a means of punishment or coercion.
I think oxygen deprivation qualifies. Your definition:

First, sure, questioning doesn't have to be involved for something to be torture. But if questioning is involved, that doesn't make it any more or less torture.

Second, Malicious intent, to me, doesn't matter at all; intent, ok. Malicious, no. You don't have to enjoy torturing people for it to be torture; look at Brazil. Even if it's just your job, it's still torture.

Fourth: The sorts of injuries you die from are physical injuries. At least thirty inmates died as a result of coersive interrogation techniques in Iraq and at Gitmo. I think they must have been physically injured, don't you? Also, with a technique like waterboarding, there isn't any real reliable way to tell when the person has lost enough oxygen in the brain, is there?

Fifth: Since there's not an easy way to tell what is extreme pain for what particular prisoner, hadn't we better stay away from things that are borderline?

You note that "no ACTUAL drowning occurs." Well, drown can mean to drench, but that does occur, so you must mean no drowning in the sense of " To kill by submerging and suffocating in water or another liquid." You're right--most of these prisoners survived. If they hadn't, it would be called execution, not torture. But some didn't; at least thirty prisioners died in U.S. custody after coersive interrogations.

This isn't a call to an end for all coersive interrogation techniques. I don't even have a problem with threatening someone with being killed or drowned. I do have a problem with holding someone under water, beating them, applying electric current, freezing them, urinating on them, &c., &c., &c. That's NOT WHAT WE SHOULD BE DOING IF THE GOAL IS TO CREATE LASTING DEMOCRACIES IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

If the goal's changed, let me know. Maybe waterboarding works for some new goal I wasn't told about.

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