Defending the Indefensible

“The media usually characterize (sic) the practice (waterboarding) as ‘simulated drowning’.  That’s incorrect.  To be effective, waterboarding is usually real drowning that simulates death.” – Judge Evan Wallach.

Although Judge Wallach is currently a federal judge in the court of International Trade, he is, at least according to his Wikipedia entry, “one of the nations foremost experts on war crimes and the law of war.”  Most importantly to this posting, his quote is correct.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that waterboarding is “usually real drowning that simulates death.”  But no word in the excerpt is more important than “usually”.

The idea of waterboarding as torture goes back well before the War on Ter…I mean “Overseas Contingency Operation”, presumably getting it’s start from a similar practice during the time of the Spanish Inquisition.

Most notably, waterboarding became a known practice, and admittedly a war crime, during World War II, when the Japanese would tie people in a position similar toDa Vinci’s famous Vitruvian Man (with limbs spread apart), and pour water directly onto a towel that covered the prisoners face.  While this was happening, the interrogators would either continue to ask questions, or beat the prisoner.  This would lead to the ingestion of water, followed by a severe beating that would force most of the water to be expelled, allowing the process to continue.  This process is similar to the types ofwaterboarding used in the Algerian War, and other documented uses of the technique.

Undeniably, the ingestion of water, combined with long periods of pouring, give a clear definition of an act synonymous with drowning.  JudgeWallach is correct in his assessment that this is real drowning that simulates death, and is also correct in stating that this is the normal process ofwaterboarding.

While the history of waterboarding shows the norm, the present form shows an evolved exception.  There are two main differences in the American form of torture as compared to the previous example.  For starters, there is no physical beating, but most importantly there is no ingestion of water.  This shifts the modern day version ofwaterboarding away from a controlled drowning with simulated death, and towards a simulated drowning.

On the rare occasions that the CIA has used the technique, a medical expert has been on hand, with the pouring of water taking place for 20-40 seconds, and the detainee allowed to catch his breath in between.  The practice is documented in theBybee memo, which also states that the form of waterboarding used by the government is not torture.

When broken down, I believe that the differences in the techniques is too great to leave the torture tag on the practice.

There is also the belief that when torture begins, it’s easier to continue it, leading to a “slippery slope” of worsening pain, physically and mentally.  This is not acceptable for 2 reasons:

1 – The practice of waterboarding was used on the three most valuable (information wise) detainees in American captivity.  It did not advance in severity, nor was it used on any other detainees.  This was far from an initiation to Guantanamo Bay.

2 – In the case of enhanced interrogation, there is no “slippery slope”.  It is more of a bell curve, one in which we currently sit at the peak.  From this position, we can just as easily slide forward (and put to much on the table), as we could slide backwards (and take to much off the table).  At what point does enough become to little?  Where would the removal of interrogation techniques end?  Bombarding terrorists with questions will not accomplish anything productive.

Many in this country have accepted the premise that torture should be used in a “ticking time bomb” scenario; that is, a situation in which we know a bomb will go off soon, and we have a man in custody with the information that is needed to stop it.  Thewaterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, which led to the break up of a plot that would have seen planes fly into buildings in Los Angeles, is as close to the ticking time bomb as we are going to get without the aid of Kiefer Sutherland.   The technique used by the CIA is also one that is used by the military in the training of personnel, specifically special ops forces.  By classifying the American version ofwaterboarding as torture, it would effectively state that it is the policy of the American military to torture the countries civilians.  Do we really believe that the government would torture Americans, and if so, do we want to open up that can of worms?

What the topic of torture has become, as noted in the previously posted article from Paul Begala, is a way to hit the Bush administration on national security, something our previous President built his time in office around.

With the recent revelation that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was briefed on the enhanced interrogation techniques used, this no longer makes waterboarding a strict Bush-Cheney policy as Begala and others want it to be.  This became a bipartisan American policy.  Granted, Pelosi is saying that the CIA briefing she received did not state that waterboarding would be used, but as Sen. Kit Bond responded, the CIA doesn’t brief on the things they don’t/won’t do, and only brief with complete information on what will be done.

If the tactics were truly believed by Speaker Pelosi to be illegal and immoral, she had the power to pressure the administration into changing course or to, at the very least, go public with the information that she had.  She did neither.

You can argue over the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the current form of waterboarding, even the morality of it, but being the stark difference in execution of the technique, the simulation of drowning as opposed the simulation of death, the line used to classify the new type of waterboarding as torture or not is, at the very least, blurred.  This isn’t the same thing we have seen in the past.


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