Waterboarding is a type of torture commonly whereby water is poured over the face of a tightly bound victim, causing the person to experience the sensation of drowning. It involves immobilizing the victim by tightly binding him/her to an inclined board, with the face upwards, in such a manner that the victim's feet are raised higher than the head. The victim's face is then covered using a thin material such as a cloth or cellophane, and a stream of water is continuously poured over the breathing passages. This triggers a gag reflex and the victim experiences physiological sensation of drowning. Some of the water may enter the lungs. Waterboarding can cause severe pain, injury to lungs, dry drowning, damage of the brain due to deprivation of oxygen, limb breakages and dislocation because of struggling to free oneself, long term psychological trauma, and if not interrupted, death. (Harris 245). These brutal bodily consequences are usually evident months after the incident, while psychological trauma can last for years.
Waterboarding has been practiced for years and dates back centuries ago. It is widely used by interrogators to get information from prisoners, suspects, and terrorists. The history of waterboarding started in Spanish Inquisition where it was called Spanish water torture. The Germans, Japanese among others, have used it in World War II. American soldiers used it during the Spanish-American war of 1898 and the recent Vietnam War. It was also practiced during the Algerian war of 1954-1962 as well as by various dictators such as Khmer Rouge of Cambodia (Kerrigan 85). Back then, it was used as a method of torture of the captured soldiers by their enemy forces. In the United States, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and military for interrogating prisoners, suspects, and terrorists use it. However, its use in the military was banned in 2006. It is used to make difficult, tough, and 'silent' suspects to open up and talk. The use of waterboarding is controversial because there seems to be no agreement on whether it is torture or a relatively harmless instrument of interrogation. Besides, experts say that the victim usually undergoes lots of panic, scare, and trauma and the confession information may not be trusted.
Torture may be defined as any activity by which brutal pain or affliction, either bodily or psychological, is deliberately meted out on an individual for the reason of extracting information. This information could be a confession, or for reasons of punishing, intimidating or coercing him to give information about something. This usually has to be done by someone in an official capacity or authority (Bagaric, Mirko, and Julie 4). Waterboarding can unreservedly be classified as torture. It accomplishes all of the essential principles that define an act of torture. The central principle of causing bodily or psychological pain and suffering is clear because when water passes into the lungs there is a lot of pain, additionally; one suffers a lot of panic, is very scared, and can even get a cardiac attack from the trauma or damage to the lungs and brain from asphyxia and inhalation of water. In short, it is certain that waterboarding causes severe bodily and/or psychological suffering- one central criterion in definition of torture. On top of that, waterboarding evidently fulfills the other additional definition principles that qualify an act to be classified as torture, because it is done deliberately, for a particular reason and by a representative of a state- in this case the CIA.
Waterboarding is regarded as torture by a large number of authorities, law experts, intelligence officials, war veterans, judges, human rights organizations, and politicians. It is banned in most countries and recently the Obama administration has banned its use in the military; the CIA has also recently acknowledged that it no longer uses it. International law bans it through acts such as the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) act and article 5 of the universal declaration of human rights. Volunteers who have willfully gone through the chilling waterboarding condemn it out rightly; they argue that firsthand experience is harrowing, and human being should not be subjected to it; they describe it as mock execution. Many last for an average of fourteen seconds only. (Miller, Vandome and McBrewster 136-145).
Waterboarding can be termed as an enhanced interrogation method. It provides a method of extracting information from the hard-core, uncooperative, and tough criminals such as terrorists who are not ready to divulge any information. A famous example is the interrogation of the toughest al Qaeda prisoner, and alleged mastermind of 9/11 bombings, Khalid Sheik Mohamed. He was put through waterboarding a record 183 times in order to get him confess any information (Harris 245). When he did, he confessed vital information about an imminent terrorist attack on Los Angeles. Owing to the grave nature and threat of terrorism, sometimes it may help to retrieve useful information that may prevent further attacks. Waterboarding was used in the SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) training of military personnel, it helps to prepare the individuals psychologically for the inhumane treatment one may receive if captured by the enemy forces. It helps them to have a real-life experience of the antics to anticipate in the hands of the enemy forces. This helps to safeguard the secrets and integrity of sensitive information that a captured soldier may have (Miller, Vandome, and McBrewster 152-153). I disagree with this approach because even though the soldiers may be trained on it, it does not take away the pain during the actual ordeal in the enemy hands. In fact, this may demoralize the soldiers, as they cannot really put up with the trauma. It has been discontinued due to this reason.
In my own opinion, waterboarding is a torture technique, which is morally wrong and should be punished. I think it is counter-productive because the information obtained from the waterboarding may not be trustworthy because an individual under such coercion may confess anything, as ruthless interrogation methods result in false confessions. Besides, there other more effective interrogation methods that can be to obtain this vital information. It is wrong for any individual to cause such pain and suffering to another deliberately. Experts have always argued against it, and personally, I do not believe that there is a time when such torture as waterboarding is morally acceptable. Arguments have been raised that these criminals need to be cracked to get vital information but it is also essential to acknowledge at times innocent people may be put through the torturous procedures yet, they have nothing to confess. Even such individuals who are suspected of engaging in activities that threaten the state security have a right to be treated with humanity; this includes the right not to be tortured.
With the ratification, of international acts on torture and various legislations that illegalize torture methods such as waterboarding are already in place, and it is, therefore, important that the government play along the set laws. Besides, the main reason of the correctional facilities is to reform the individuals; this cannot be possible with method as waterboarding being practiced in the institutions owing to their long-term effects on the victims. A common objection to my argument would be that the suspects would not willfully cooperate with the interrogators; however, I hold the view that other humane methods should be applied and the use of waterboarding does not necessary mean that they have cooperated. As discussed earlier, even the heads of organizations such as CIA and administrators have acknowledged that waterboarding is not right and has subsequently called for its abandonment. Various key figures in the government have condemned it and in January 2009, President Obama ordered its cessation.
United States of America has often practiced double standards when it comes to waterboarding; in the past, United States tried and jailed a Japanese soldier for fifteen years with hard labor for waterboarding. They termed it as war crimes against war prisoners, yet, they used it widely to interrogate captured terrorists. This has caused many controversies on numerous occasions (Siegel 13). Waterboarding is not out rightly illegalized by the narrow definition of torture by American laws. President Bush vetoed a bill illegalizing waterboarding back in 2008 because he considered it a very valuable tool in extracting vital information from the terrorist prisoners. (Miller, Vandome, and McBrewster 57-59).The argument is that waterboarding does not cause outright seen marks. This belief is wrong because torture include mental and psychological suffering.
In conclusion, considering all the facts raised above, waterboarding still is one of the most controversial subjects of the world. A small number of people who defend its use against tough suspects exist; however, many deem it as a gross infringement of human rights and ethics. Personal perception of the issue notwithstanding, waterboarding is an immense enigma, which persists to be a weighty issue for all administrations all over the world.