Monday, February 25, 2008

Is Waterboarding Torture?

A week or so ago, one of my readers, the amazing Claudia (Fran) Davila, posted a comment, here, about Mitt Romney, religion, and violence (war). Fran is amazing and she brought up some very important issues. I'd like to continue addressing them, today. Check out my previous post, for the first part of this discussion.

Let's pick up where we left off with Fran's posted comments.

"And he enthusiastically supports torture of military combatants and presumed terrorists. Where in the bible does it say we should hurt and kill people in the name of religion? Not even the Koran says this. All the world's religions are based on peace, and what Romney and the jihadists have in common is that they are all perverting religion for a misguided goal."

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that Fran was talking about water boarding when she mentioned torture. I could be wrong, but I've been thinking about blogging on the issue of water boarding anyway so, here goes.

I have very mixed feelings about this so-called "interrogation technique." From a certain standpoint, water boarding is not physical torture. It does not cause physical harm in the same way that electrocution, burning, beating, or cutting someone would. At the same time, there's a reason why the person being questioned is hooked up to an EKG so they can monitor his or her heart, and it has nothing to do with lie detection. The fear and stresses involved are immense and can have lasting physical and psychological effects.

The US Navy SEALS, and other elite US military units, use water boarding as part of their survival training to psychologically prepare them for the possibility of capture. The SEALS have quit doing it, though, because it has such a horrible effect on morale. The CIA continues to use it as part of their training.

From what I understand, even the most hardened CIA operative usually "folds" within 14 seconds of subjection to water boarding. And this is when they know that the person performing it is not going to let them die.

Why do people "start talking" so quickly? Water boarding simulates drowning. Most of us can hold our breath for longer than 14 seconds. From what I understand, from people who have undergone it as part of military training, is that water boarding is so terrifying that they can think of nothing else but making it stop. The fear of death and drowning is far more severe than the reality of their situation.

Is this torture? In my mind, it most certainly is psychological torture, with a potential physical threat due to stress. There's a problem with such things. The person is so afraid that they may tell you anything in order to get it to stop. That puts the value of the information into question.

The updated Army Manual of Interrogation prohibits water boarding, and many of the other things we saw at Abu Ghraib prison. It was updated because of what did happen at Abu Ghraib. The CIA, on the other hand, can still use water boarding as an interrogation tool. They received written permission from President Bush to do so in 2006. They've denied using it since 2003, however.

So, is water boarding torture? Yes. It's mock execution. I can't see any other definition for it, legal or otherwise. It's only been under our recent administration that it status as torture has ever been questioned.

It's also horridly effective. Even given the chance of someone giving false information, the CIA has claimed that a lot of very good intelligence in the War on Terror has been garnered through water boarding. The 2002 through 2003 interrogations of Al-Qaida suspects Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri are examples.

Let me give you some food for thought, though. This is a question that nags me when I ask it of myself. I'm not sure of my answer, and that doesn't make me very proud of myself. There are parts of my psyche that fall on both sides of the issue.

Here we go.

If you knew that there was an imminent terrorist plot that would result in the potential death of hundreds or even thousands of lives, and you also had a prime suspect in that plot in your custody, would you employ water boarding? What if other means of interrogation had yielded very little?

Remember. Time is of the essence. People's lives are on the line, and you have a sworn duty to defend them.

If you knew that your actions as an interrogator - putting one person through a few moments of sheer terror - could save thousands of people and their families from horrible pain and death, would you do it?

What would you do?

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