Just What is Waterboarding?I finally found a description of the interrogation technique, in "Bush vetoes bill banning waterboarding" CNN (March 8, 2008): "It involves strapping a person down and pouring water over his or her cloth-covered face to simulate and create the sensation of drowning."
It sounds quite unpleasant.
I certainly wouldn't want to experience it. But then, I'd just as soon not go through an American soldier's military training. (Hats off to ZacharyR, whose comment on yesterday's post encouraged me to leave the training quotes in.)
Is Waterboarding Torture?"During Tuesday's testimony [to Congress], [CIA Director Michael V.] Hayden said that depriving the CIA of enhanced techniques would place America in greater danger. After the hearing, a senior U.S. intelligence official argued that waterboarding should not be considered torture because the U.S. military has subjected its own personnel to the method to prepare them for the possibility of being captured.
" 'Tens of thousands of American Air Force and naval airmen were waterboarded as part of their survival training,' said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. 'We don't maim as part of our training. We don't mutilate. We don't sodomize. Those are things that are always bad. . . . Intellectually, there has got to be a difference between [waterboarding] and the others; otherwise we wouldn't have done it in training.' " Los Angeles Times (February 7, 2008)
The Los Angeles Times called the White House statement that waterboarding is legal "shocking." Maybe it is. After all, Congress made sure the the field manual doesn't include it, the Supreme Court disapproves of it, and a presidential candidate (McCain) says that the Geneva Convention doesn't allow it.
That isn't the most convincing set of arguments for me. The Los Angeles Times article argues on the basis of authority: and that sort of argument works only if the authorities cited may be respected and believed.
- Congress may make sensible decisions from time to time. But there are too many members of that club who like to send my taxes to their constituents; make decisions for ideological (and possibly psychiatric) reasons; or both; for me to trust everything that's extruded by that august body.
- The Supreme Court is part of a judicial system that I keep trying to respect. Judges and officials who have judicial powers don't help my efforts. ("Tap Dancing Marine Recruiters and Other Threats" Another War-on-Terror Blog (March 7, 2008))
- The Geneva Conventions are a set of rules that have been around in one form or another since 1864, with a major upgrade in 1949. They're an admirable attempt to establish humanitarian standards. But they're the product of human effort. And, particularly since they come from the same northwestern-European culture whose Nobel Prize committee gave Yasser Arafat the Nobel Peace Prize, I think it's permissible to question the infallibility of the Geneva Conventions.
I find it difficult to believe that a technique which is a part of American soldiers' training would be, in fact, torture. The best minds of Berkeley notwithstanding: America's military doesn't torture. America isn't that kind of a place.
Why Use Waterboarding?Waterboarding has been called "harsh," and so isn't one of the 19 approved interrogation techniques found in the U.S. military field manual.
Why use such a harsh technique? Especially when American news organizations clearly state that it hurts America's image?
A simple, quick, answer for Americans who may have been away from Earth for the last six and a half years:
- Bad people are trying to kill Americans.
- Many Americans don't want them to succeed
The bill that was vetoed today would have imposed on CIA interrogators, the same set of 19 interrogation techniques that the military are allowed to use.
The problem is that the CIA doesn't deal with ordinary combatants on a battlefield.
"Bush said the CIA must retain use of 'specialized interrogation procedures' that the military doesn't need. The military methods are designed for questioning 'lawful combatants captured on the battlefield,' while intelligence professionals are dealing with 'hardened terrorists' who have been trained to resist the techniques in the Army manual, the president said."
Simplistic as it may seem, that sounds reasonable to me. The CIA isn't the army. The two groups don't have the same mission. And so, it isn't reasonable to have them both follow the same rules.
I think the question comes down to whether waterboarding is torture. It's possible to describe it as getting the subject's face wet, while making it difficult to breathe. Put it that way, and the experience doesn't sound very bad.
And, it's used on American troops as part of their training.
It doesn't sound like what I understand as "torture."
Of course, I'm no expert. Perhaps the psychophysical manifestations of primordial phobias invoked by the application of waterboarding are so traumatic, that this use of a board, a cloth, and some water is, in fact, torture. Maybe.
Perhaps the 19 approved techniques in the field manual are all that the CIA needs. I hope so.
Because if they're not, and Congress succeeds in protecting terrorists from American intelligence agencies, someone may very likely have to give a speech that will run something like this, in part:
"Although the death of over seventy five thousand people at Qualcomm Stadium during the Superbowl is a tragedy, we may find solace in this thought: At no time since 2008 has America used harsh methods when interrogating terrorist leaders."