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In Defense of Waterboarding

In Defense of Waterboarding

The most common objections made to waterboarding are that

1. It compromises the safety of our personnel in enemy hands

2. It is torture

3. Torture is useless for extracting information

The first and second arguments are easiest to dismiss.

In 1985 former Marine and DEA agent Enrique Camarena went undercover in Mexico in pursuit of Mexican drug lords. He was identified and tortured for two days straight on the probable orders of Mexico's Secretary of Defense, General Juan Arevalo and a doctor was used to bring him back from the brink of death time and time again before he was finally killed. Among the implements used were a tire iron, red hot metal pipes and a cattle prod. By the time his body was found, most of his head had been crushed.

Also in 1985 a former decorated Korean War veteran and the CIA Station Chief in Beirut William Francis Buckley was kidnapped by Hizbollah while working on a plan to rescue the hostages. His torture was videotaped and the videotape was sent to the US Embassy. Buckley was tortured for fifteen months and only his remains were left behind to be buried.

In 1985 the United States respected the full legal rights of drug dealers and Islamic terrorists. It assigned them lawyers and treated them as any other criminal suspects. That did not help Camarena or Buckley in the least, the very same sort of groups who use real torture do not care about reciprocity and that is why there is no sensible reason to treat them with kid gloves in the hopes that they will treat our captured personnel likewise. We know they won't.

United States prisoners have been tortured or assaulted in virtually every war in the 20th century from WW2 to Korea to Vietnam to Iraq to Afghanistan. The fact that the United States respected the rights of Nazi, Imperial Japanese, Communist and Islamist prisoners did not in any way restrain the followers of these totalitarian ideologies from abusing our captured soldiers. If anything it made it safer for them to do so knowing that there would be no retaliation.

The cases of Buckley and Campena are reminders of what real torture is. Waterboarding is not torture. Torture is a form of physical brutality that causes enduring physical damage. Waterboarding is psychologically, not physically, damaging. It does not leave permanent scars, it does not maim and does not kill. The potency of waterboarding is in its ability to break down psychological barriers, much as sleep deprivation, extended interrogations, hooding, intimidation, solitary confinement and other forms of psychological pressure do. When waterboarding opponents conflate physical and psychological pressure, they create a dangerous moral equivalence between the murderers of Buckley and Campena and those who are trying to bring them and their like to justice.

The third objection regarding the integrity of information obtained under the influence of such tactics is the most relevant. Indeed information directly obtained through torture is of dubious value. However the purpose of interrogation is to first break down mental resistance and then extract information. There is no one who can seriously argue that waterboarding is not an excellent tool for achieving the former. Contrary to the impression produced by TV shows such as 24 in which pain leads to immediate confession, the purpose of physical and psychological pressure is to break down the psychological defenses of the detainee in order to bring him to a state where he is prepared to provide truthful answers. That is why psychological pressure is more effective than physical pressure, attacking the source of the mental resistance, rather than sadistically savaging the body.

Opponents of waterboarding claim that uninterrupted waterboarding would cause death. Of course so would any activity that went on uninterrupted. Handcuffing a prisoner for a long enough period enough could cause death as well. And has. These same opponents typically focus on how emotionally traumatic waterboarding is. Which is of course the point.

Some forms of psychological pressure are used by law enforcement on a day to day basis. There are people who experience psychological trauma after an encounter with law enforcement. But if law enforcement personnel were not intimidating, they would be useless. In preparation for the 1972 Munich Olympics, police were equipped with candy and flowers to distribute in response to any trouble. The result was the infamous Munich Olympics Massacre because peace and love is simply not a useful deterrent.

To accomplish any goal, pressure must be applied and motion cannot exist unless energy is applied. In contrast to the methods used by terrorists and drug lords, waterboarding is a humane way of applying minimum pressure for maximum results. It is not a pleasant experience but it is a good deal more pleasant than the fatal consequences of not applying it. Though liberal opponents of waterboarding continue to insist that we live in a world where coddling prisoners would produce better results than vigorously interrogating them, but evil men fanatically dedicated to their cause will not surrender that cause unless the will that holds them to that cause is broken first.

(A Version of this article appeared at the Canada Free Press)


  1. It's an excellent article. I've read and heard of different techniques used in waterboarding.

    The public has the misconception that it's the same technique used during the Salem Witch Trials; that the suspect is placed on a chair and repeatedly dunked into the water. Or a circular rack used during the Inquisition the spins and at times goes underwater.

    These techniques were never intended to extract confessions or conversions--they were meant to kill the person.

    That's not the case with waterboarding today. In general, the suspect is strapped to a board and rendered immobile (enough to cause a state of panic in many people).

    A piece of plastic is placed over their face, covering the mouth and nose.

    One or both orifices have a small puncture hole. Then water is splashed over the person's face; because the mouth and nose are covered and a tiny amount of water is swallowed the suspect feels as though he is drowning.

    As water builds up on the plastic (similar to the way rain forces a pool cover to drop) it triggers a gag reflex.

    If you've ever swallowed something "the wrong way" which is actually choking you know the panic it creates.

    A reporter underwent waterboarding as part of a news story. He could only tolerate it for about eight seconds. EIGHT SECONDS. A terrorism suspect lasted only a few seconds before giving useful information.

    IMHO--waterboarding is really no more serious than when someone accidentally swallows water in a swimming pool and gets it in their mouth and nose. It's the fear of drowning that induces panic and desperation, not actual drowning.

    The immobility adds to the element of panic because natural instinct when someone gets water in their nose or is choking is to panic and rise up and flail around. It's instinct.

    A primal instinct, and I'd imagine that if a guilty person didn't confess knowledge of a terrorist attack in a few seconds under such circumstances he probably doesn't have any; and the waterboarding would be stopped.

    That's a lot better than beating someone to the brink of death. The chief danger would be if an interrogator continued the waterboarding well after it would seem obvious that if the suspect had information he would have already given it.

    If it's lasting more than a minute or more at a single session that would be torture and really unlikely to yield anything of use.

    Waterboarding isn't torture. It's just inducing a state of panic by simulating drowning.

    Think about the movie 1984--in that novel Winston Smith does not confess even after being subjected to intense physical pain. It confues him into believe 2+2=5 but he doesn't confess.

    It's only when he is put into a panic by what he fears most--rats--that he confessed.

    As waterboarding induces such a primal fear it is definitely a useful technique.

  2. What happened to the comments? Blogger eat them again?

  3. i only saw one other comment, not sure what happened to it

    and yes you're quite correct, it is about breaking down resistance rather than 'torture' torture which is about inflicting pain and suffering out of sadism

  4. Exactly. And as a procedure waterboarding is not all that different to the way patients on ventilators are suctioned. You first squirt a few drops into their endotracheal tube, then insert the suction tube, which removes air along with the secretions in the trachea.

    Not pleasant by any means but necessary. If waterboarding is outlawed then endotracheal suctioning should be too.

    btw, it always infuriated me when I'd see nurses refusing to hyperoxygenate patients before suctioning them. Then they wonder why the patient's heart rate dropped. ARGH!!

    Any injuries caused by waterboarding is no doubt because it is being done improperly or for much too long.

  5. I have mixed feelings about this piece Sultan. Not that I am against making life uncomfortable for terrorist murderers in order to extract information. I am not. The point is, implied support for Bush administration policy when Bush holds this immoral double standard toward our only reliable ally in this war against the global jihad.

    While you were typing this out, Bush administration is pressuring Israel to exercise "restraint" on the Muslim terrorist savages and their supporters in Gaza. Olmert buckles under the pressure, and as he resumes fuel deliveries, the savage fire volleys of rockets at Sderot.

    Bush administration policy vis a vis Israel is predicated on the notion that the Jews are illegally occupying historic jihadist (Arab) land and is oppressing the Palestinian Muslim Arab people.

    I'm sure you've heard of the term "American exceptionalism." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_exceptionalism

    Mr. Bush applies a double standard to Israel because America is morally superior to Israel. Thus Bush applies a different standard to the Jews than he would apply to himself.

  6. Bush is with our jihadist enemies:


    Rice urges Israel to avoid Gaza humanitarian crisis

    US secretary of state tells reporters, 'No one wants innocent Gazans to suffer.' Palestinian Parliament holds meeting by candlelight, in view of power outage in Strip; owners of gas stations refuse to receive diesel supplied by Israel

    Ali Waked and Reuters Published: 01.22.08, 12:35 / Israel News

    US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Tuesday she had spoken to the Israelis and urged them to avert a humanitarian crisis in Gaza where Israel implemented a blockade on fuel and electricity.....

  7. "Innocent jihadists"

    "Nobody wants innocent Gazans to suffer and so we have spoken to the Israelis about the importance of not allowing a humanitarian crisis to unfold there," Rice told reporters travelling with her to Berlin for a meeting on Iran.

  8. Some form of pressure has to be applied to get information. Here's a diagram of EXACTLY what waterboard is:

    Frankly, considering what these animals do to our soldiers I am not into playing nice with them.

    BTW - SK - JBlogs has dumped almost 80% of their feeds lately! Don't know what's up but at least you and KA are still there (yours truly is gone for some reason... sniff, sniff)

  9. it seems to be affecting blogspot blogs circa jan 19th

    jblogs always got along badly with jblogs feed

  10. My blog feed is also gone there

  11. My posts aren't getting picked up either. What I have to do is click on "All Blogs" then view my posts. After that, I click refresh and all my new posts are added and given an initial rating.

    One of the newest blogs on J Blog (Jewish Week or Jewish Press) had zero posts. I tried to refresh that and got a message indication the blog was too new and the first post

    "Did not appear to have meaningful content."

    Let us view and decide for ourselves. No meaningful content. Rubbish. Everyone has something to say.


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