Waterboarding: Torture or not?

Judge Michael Mukasey seems uncertain on the point of whether "waterboarding" is torture. Others who have tried it seem a bit more decisive. (Both of the following links were brought to my attention by Samuel Tenenbaum, who in real life
thinks about lots of things besides his 55-mph proposal.)

Here’s a video of a guy undergoing the treatment. He gets through it OK — but remember, he knew the guys doing this to him were friendlies, and would eventually stop.

Here’s a written account from another who experienced it. An excerpt:

    Waterboarding is slow-motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of blackout and expiration. Usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch. If it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia — meaning, the loss of all oxygen to the cells.
    The lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threatened with its use again and again. Call it "Chinese water torture," "the barrel," or "the waterfall." It is all the same.

After reading that, and watching the video, I believe I’d agree with John McCain that this constitutes torture. (Of course, I would be loathe to argue the point in any case with the one presidential candidate who truly knows exactly what he’s talking about when it comes to torture.)

But here’s another question: If you were actually racing against the clock to prevent a terrorist attack that could kill hundreds or thousands, would you do it anyway? Or would you allow others to do it in your behalf? Or would you simply look the other way if they did?

I’ll tell you what got me thinking along those lines. It was the interview with Alan Dershowitz on the above-linked video. He didn’t seem to mind the use of the technique to stop terrorism, as long as there is "accountability." He would want the president of the United States to specifically permit it, in writing. That’s a lawyer for you. Strain at a gnat, miss the camel — or the beam, or whatever.

Personally, I wouldn’t want anybody I’d ever vote for to give permission for such a thing. Nor would I want him to give a nod and a wink, either. If some Jack Bauer-like subordinate did such a thing, without authorization, and did indeed save many lives doing so, I’d be inclined to thank him on behalf of a grateful nation, then prosecute him to the full extent of the law. Unlike Mr. Dershowitz, I think under the circumstances I could live with the inherent contradiction.

But that’s just off the top of my head.

7 thoughts on “Waterboarding: Torture or not?

  1. Doug Ross

    It’s a grey area… I would have no problem with a President authorizing extreme measures against a specific individual connected to a specific attack where time is a critical factor. The concern is when operatives use torture as a general information gathering practice. That’s the slippery slope we have to avoid.
    I’m more disturbed by a President who authorizes military action that has killed thousands of civilians as seemingly acceptable collateral damage in our attempt to kill individual terrorists…

  2. Paul

    I have no problem nailing them to ant hills. I f it gets info we can use to target more of them. Nuke’em till they glow and shoot’em in the dark!

  3. Karen McLeod

    Oh, come on folks! One of the biggest problems with torture is that it doesn’t usually work. As Jeanne d’Arc made clear quite a few years ago, a person being tortured will say anything he/she thinks will get the torturer to stop. Now, by the time you get through truth checking all the false leads, which may have been gotten from people who truly don’t know the answer you need, or from tough guys who know how this works and have aready thought out plausible tales, you have wasted too many man hours that could have much more effectively been used getting hard evidence or at least good leads. Torture is an immoral technique that seldom works, and destroys the torturer’s soul at least as quickly as it destroys the tortured soul’s body.

  4. Nile Clifton

    I believe that torture is necessary in certain situations. 1) I believe that if it is discovered that a person has vital intelligence on a group or attack that is being planned against the United States or her allies torture is justified and 2) if an attack is imminent on the United States or het allies. I have included Mr. Charles Krauthammer’ article “It’s time to be honest about doing terrible things.”
    Today, almost everyone enjoys the luxury or use of the internet, either through the use of their home, office or internet café. This ability gives anyone ease of access to information on how to make, acquire, transport and detonate numerous explosive devices from a small pipe bomb to a small nuclear device. Granted, the latter would be much more difficult to acquire the materials to build such as device, but with the ever eroding away of the Russia’s ability to safely secure its nuclear materials and safely account that every soldier or leader guarding the hundreds of sites are fully loyal to the Government, the potential for individual terrorist organizations to try and acquire these materials is great. I am not stating that the threat of a nuclear weapon or even for that matter potential weapons of mass destruction will come from Russia. There are numerous Eastern Block countries and other countries around the globe that are not friendly with the U.S. or her allies that would sell their technology to the highest bidder.
    There is a distinct difference between a person on the battlefield, in uniform that belongs to a higher headquarters and has a distinct chain of command than a single person, or organization that is not tied to any country or command structure. The soldier fighting in uniform should be allowed the rights and privileges under the Law of Warfare. However the organization, operating under an ideology based on the destruction of a specific culture, race or religion, that does not take into account innocent lives should not accorded the rights of fair treatment if it is found that there is an imminent threat of significant loss of life, particularly if it is discovered that it entails the potential use of a weapon of mass destruction. Under these circumstances, any and all means of acquiring vital intelligence for the safety of our country and our allies should be used, without questions and without guilt.
    Mr. Krauthammer identifies and discusses the McCain amendment and describes it as a ‘“torture never” document, refusing to recognize the legitimacy of any moral compass.” However, as Mr. Krauthammer points out in his article, when faced with the “ticking time bomb” scenario, according to a Newsweek article, we should “do what you have to do. But you take responsibility for it.” (Krauthammer, 2006)
    Because of the ease of access to technology, either through the internet or through nations that are unable or unwilling to control sensitive materials that could be used for weapons of mass destruction or through countries that are not friendly to the U.S. or U.S. interests I believe that torture should be allowed. I believe that torture can and should be utilized by the U.S. Government or by any agent of the U.S. Government in any form and should be used as long as necessary to elicit the necessary information when the information is vital to our nation’s national security or in the case of the “ticking time bomb” scenario.
    I would recommend that we should re-evaluate the McCain amendment to include the allowance of torture under specific situations to protect not only the U.S., U.S. interests but also its allies. I know that I will not loose any sleep at night knowing that our country is doing everything possible to protect us….by any means necessary.
    Major Nile L. Clifton, Student, Command and general Staff College, Class 09-001, Fort Lee, Virginia
    “The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or posistion of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.”

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