History of Waterboarding Essay

Waterboarding Torture has long been used by law enforcement agencies and governments to questions criminals and terrorists. It is used to coax confessions or to find out any sort of information that may lead to the arrest or capture of other criminals. Although the torturing of prisoners in the United States is strictly prohibited by the constitution, the government started using the tactic waterboarding against terrorists. Although the government says waterboarding has led to prevention on mass terrorist attacks on U. S soil, it is not accepted by all of this country’s citizens.

It is believed by certain people that waterboarding is torture and others do not believe it is. It is my goal to explore why the United States deemed this technique necessary and why people argue that it is unconstitutional. Waterboarding is a process in which “The head is tilted back and water is poured into the upturned mouth or nose” (Bianchet). This causes the victim to have the sensation of drowning and leaves them gasping for air as their lungs fill up with water. This is done in small increments at time, usually over a two to four hour period.

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While this is the general idea of waterboarding, it is and can be conducted in many different manners. The most popular method involves strapping the prisoner to an inclined board while shackling his hands and feet down to the board. The prisoner’s feet are then inclined slightly above their head and cellophane or a cloth is put over the prisoners nose and mouth. If the cloth method is being used, water is slowly dripped on the cloth to soak it in water until both the mouth and nose are completely covered in water. If cellophane is being used, water is poured over the prisoners head.

During this, “the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt” (Esposito, Ross, 2005). While this does not usually cause death, many of the side effects are “extreme pain, dry drowning, damage to lungs, brain damage from oxygen deprivation, other physical injuries including broken bones due to struggling against restraints, and lasting psychological damage” (Waterboarding, 2009). Waterboarding first became prominent in the fourteenth century during the

Spanish Inquisition. The treatment was used some of time during the trial portion of the Inquisition. The first documented cases of the United States taking such measure were in the 1850’s in New York state prisons. The guards would use this to subdue an unruly prisoner. There is at least one documented death as a result of “showering” as it was called then. The U. S. army was accused of mistreating prisoners of war in the Philippines. The government maintained that the water treatment was fully legal under the terms of war.

Theodore Roosevelt publicly stated that he would try to make sure nothing like that happened under his presidency again. Although when he sent a commission to the islands to investigate the accusations, the court martial decided that the treatment of prisoners was excessive. President Roosevelt had him dismissed from the army and nothing came of his report. After World War II, during the war crime tribunals, Japanese officer Yukio Asano, was convicted of committing war crimes of waterboarding against U. S. soldiers. He was sentenced to 15 years in a hard labor camp.

Perhaps in the most public display of waterboarding yet, U. S. soldiers were caught using a similar water treatment on a Vietnamese soldier in 1968. A photograph catching them was put on the cover of the Washington Post. The soldier was later court martial and convicted. In 1983, a Texas sheriff and three of his deputies were convicted of handcuffing prisoners to chairs and waterboarding them to goad confessions. They were each sentenced to four years in prison. These examples show that waterboarding has not been accepted by the U. S. government in the past. Whether it was U. S. itizens being subjected to it or performing it, the performers all ended up getting some sort of prison sentence. With that precedent, it is hard to believe that the government would employ these tactics against its prisoners. The government has shown its intolerance for this illegal method in the past, but has the audacity to use it against terrorists. Historically waterboarding became a popular technique because “It causes great physical and mental suffering, yet leaves no marks on the body” (Weiner, 2007). Leaving no marks is a very big perk for someone committing a crime against humanity.

With no physical evidence, there is little evidence that the victim was really subjected to the treatment. The CIA, no doubt, kept this in mind before authorizing the treatment of prisoners. The CIA used waterboarding as an interrogation method to try to get leaders of Al Qaeda to talk. The dilemma came up when Abu Zubaydah, an Al Qaeda leader, became uncooperative in prison. The George Bush administration held meetings to decide what interrogation methods would be legal. A modern form of waterboarding was deemed acceptable and the most extreme interrogation method listed.

According to sources, waterboarding has been used on three top Al Qaeda officials (Ross, 2007). The CIA maintains that this method is effective and completely lawful. The most successful incident of waterboarding came with the interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. KSM, as he is known by, was subjected to waterbaording and lasted an astounding minute and thirty seconds, as compared to the average of 14 seconds by other prisoners. After the treatment he admitted to be the master mind of the September 11th attacks of 2001 and several other Al Qaeda attacks.

Following the session, KSM also admitted to a plot to take down Los Angeles’ tallest building. That plot was thwarted in 2002. KSM was not captured until 2003. Many people believe that the waterboarding of KSM did not reveal anything and that he just confessed to things that already happened to get the guards to stop interrogating him. The most notable man subjected to waterboarding may not have admitted anything at all. The validity if the information given by prisoners subjected to enhance interrogation has also been called into question. The hippocampus and prefrontal cortex — the brain’s centers of memory processing, storage and retrieval — are profoundly altered by stress hormones. Keep the stress up long enough, and it will result in compromised cognitive function and even tissue loss, warping the minds that interrogators want to read” (Kelm 2009). The damaging of the front lobe can also produce fake memories, so that the subject might think they are telling the truth when they are really lying. After all the torture that these people go thru, the information that they give up very well could be compromised.

Even with this information, The Bush administration, still decided to go on with their so called “enhanced interrogation” methods. President Bush led the American public to believe that the government was not torturing these prisoners and that the information received was helping government intelligence. Many Americans, especially down South (where I used to live), thought that this was a necessary tactic that must be employed by the CIA. According to a poll from CNN. com when Americans were “asked whether they think the U. S. overnment should be allowed to use the procedure to try to get information from suspected terrorists, 58 percent said no; 40 percent said yes. ” That is an astonishing number of people to agree to use something that is widely considered torture. There have been many people who have tried to say that waterboarding is not torture. In fact in 2005 the U. S. State Department admitted that submerging a victim’s head in water is torture but waterboarding is different and therefore not torture. In 2006, they released an updated document that prohibits the use of waterboarding by U. S. military personnel.

One man who set out ot find the truth was Christopher Hitchens. A Vanity Fair reporter by trade, Hitchens decided that he would get a firsthand experience of waterboarding by former military men who had been trained on how to resist the treatment. He underwent the treatment and denies the fact that is simulates the experience of drowning. He says it is not the case because “you feel that you are drowning because you are drowning—or, rather, being drowned, albeit slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those who are applying the pressure” (Hitchens, 2008).

He goes on to talk about the long term psychological damage that it has had on him. If he is ever short of breath he feels himself claw at his face as if trying to get the damp clothes off. After undergoing the treatment twice, Hitchens goes on to say, “I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. ” Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture” (2008). Strong words from someone who has experienced it firsthand.

If the United States continues to use a technique that is both unlawful and immoral, than we as a country cannot take actions against other countries using the same techniques on our citizens. It is clear that if the U. S. is torturing prisoners the government is making immoral decisions. Even if the thought was to try to save U. S. citizens, the men that they tortured had been trained (just like U. S. soldiers) to resist the pain and not reveal any information. This being so, the U. S. made very unethical decisions in allowing this sort of treatment.

The only way to fix these injustices is to do exactly what President Barack Obama did. He banned the use of waterboarding in January of 2009. He stated that the United States must stick to army field guidelines at all times when dealing with war criminals, even on our home soil. I don’t believe it would be right to put the men on trial who administrated the treatment as they were getting direct orders from the President’s office. Although they had the free will to not administer the treatment, they thought what they were doing was right and helping their country.

I do think that President Obama could help right the situation by bringing to the United Nations attention about how wrong water boarding really is. He could say that other countries should follow the United States footsteps and admit they were wrong and help better the conditions for other prisoners of war. While President Obama has banned waterboarding, 40% of the American public still seems to think it is acceptable. If another attack similar to September 11th happens, will he be swayed by the citizens? This topic should be put to rest by him admitting that it is torture and vowing never to bring it back.

Extensive research has proved it to be ineffective and extreme. If the President would admit that it is cruel and unusual punishment, it could be ruled unconstitutional by the courts and never be out into play again. References Bianchet, E. What Waterboarding Is. Retrieved September 21, 2009, from http://waterboarding. org/info Esposito, R, Ross, B. (2005, November 18). CIA’s Harsh Interrogation Techniques Described. Retrieved September 13, 2009, from http://abcnews. go. com/Blotter/Investigation/story? id=1322866 Hitchens, C. (2008, August). Believe Me, It’s Torture. Retrieved September 12, 2009, from


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