Straight Dope Message Board: I waterboard!

by Volker Weber

So much talk of waterboarding, so much controversy. But what is it really? How bad? I wanted to write the definitive thread on waterboarding, settle the issue. Torture, or not?

To determine the answer, I knew I had to try it. I looked at my two small children. Surely, in the interests of science?.....

But alas, my wife had objections.

Perhaps her?

Sadly, she is proficient in Ju Jitsu, and I am unlikely to waterboard her.

That leaves me.

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That's surely one of the most powerful messages I've ever read in a forum or blog. What makes it more credible is that it appears that the poster is actually a fairly strong Republican (impression from the board). We absolutely need people like this on both sides of the political spectrum. Ones that are willing to investigate issues and form opinions based on their research, and not to blindly follow the "accepted" views of their political affiliates.

chris lindley, 2007-12-23

That guy's nuts.

But he's no more nuts than the people parading around claiming waterboarding isn't torture. Seriously, anyone making that claim is either exceptionally dishonest or incredibly foolish. I've been trying to figure out why any conservative would try to defend that position, because it's so obviously a losing proposition. Quick hint: if the Spanish Inquisition used a particular technique to torture people, said technique is officially torture. Duh.

The position they *should* take is that anything is justified if it prevents another 9/11. I wouldn't agree with them, but I'd at least have to admit that we could argue about it (relative morality, if there is such a thing, of possibly saving many lives by doing something evil).

This idea that waterboarding isn't torture? No. Just no. Anybody claiming that is too dumb to talk to.

My favorite comment on the thread came from elucidator:
"Were you going to prove to yourself that it is torture? Well, of course, it's torture, if it weren't torture, it wouldn't work! And if it didn't work, nobody would use it! It would fall to be the bottom of the tormentors fun book down with "the comfy chair". It has a long history of use because it works, and it works because....(wait for it!).... its torture!!"

Rob McDonagh, 2007-12-23

...and therein lies the problem: it works. It'll get people to talk.

"If you beat this prick long enough, he'll tell you he started the Chicago fire, now that don't necessarily make it so!"
Nice Guy Eddie, "Reservoir Dogs"

In the situations where some folks are trying to justify the use of torture, it's used on people who haven't been found guilty of any crime - in many cases, haven't even been officially charged with one - so, from a legal perspective, we don't *know* that they know anything actionable in the first place. Which implies, then, that at the moment of panic, where they'll do anything to stop the torture, if they don't know anything useful, they'll do whatever it takes to convince their interrogators that they do, because unless what they say sounds convincing enough, it'll still sound like a lie, even though anything they come up with that does sound convincing is still a lie. And then we act on that, because torture works. We pretend to drown someone, they tell us something that sounds like a legitimate threat, and then we scurry off to try to prevent that threat. In the best case, we divert resources from the real threats to chase the phony ones; in the worst case, people die because we acted on bad information that was inhumanely extracted trying to keep people from dying. And we traded in our souls in the bargain...

And if that tortured detainee wasn't a terrorist to begin with, chances are pretty likely that he is *now*. He may not have hated America (or Britain, or whoever is doing the torturing) prior to his capture, he may have been on the fence, but it wouldn't surprise me if that made up his mind pretty definitively. And, unless we really want to start heading down a truly dark and terrifying path, we've got to eventually let that guy go back home, because he hasn't been convicted him of a crime, and civilized nations just don't indefinitely incarcerate people who've been convicted of no crime. So he's gonna get back to wherever he came from with quite a vivid story to tell. Suddenly you've got maybe a dozen or so previously moderate family members and friends for whom the "global war on terror" just got very, very personal. And if, on average, each former detainee is only able to convince one other person that revenge is appropriate, we've still got two new real terrorists for every erroneously suspected one. Yeah, torture works. And it comes back to bite you, hard.

Tim Tripcony, 2007-12-23

At first I wasn't sure this was for real, or it was some slacker who couldn't walk further than from his sofa to his fridge. But this guy is for real. He runs 100+ miles and swam laps while holding his breath until he passed out, just to see what his limit is. This guy says:

"To quantify it, look at it this way. Let's say the maximum human distress a person can voluntarily withstand is 10. Waterboarding was a 1,000."

That's unbelievable.

@Tim - Unfortunately they'll do this to multiple people and cross-reference the stories. And they usually have some other source that they can't completely verify, so they go this route to get confirmation or at least a stronger idea of where the truth is. So it's not like they grab one random person off the street and simulate killing him just so they can have a source to point to -- even though I wouldn't put it out of the realm of possibility with our current administration.

And we're already down a truly dark and terrifying path. Brandon Mayfield's story isn't a widely known one, but it should be. The Patriot Act allows the government to make you disappear -- even though it violates the Constitution.

If torturing innocent foreigners makes them go home and plot revenge, what does doing it to your own citizens create?

Charles Robinson, 2007-12-23

@Charles: That at least constitutes severe doubts as to the real power of the constitution nowadays.

I am sure, the american people will overcome the situation of today in the near future. They are capable to do it. Actually, they are the only ones to perform it. We, as Europeans, South American citizens, Asians or Australians, the whole global community, need a strong and above anything else, trustworthy USA.

It does lie within our responsibility as well to help, though, to disseminate information like Volker does here. And I appreciate it.

"On topic" on: The reading matter has had my hair stand up and realizing that methods of the spanish inquisition are still applied makes one think. We Germans do have our own history of torturing and killing, and have to concede, that our culture has contributed to the "science" of torturing quite a bit. So the thread hits a chord with us, maybe more than elsewhere.

Armin Roth, 2007-12-24

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I explain difficult concepts in simple ways. For free, and for money. Clue procurement and bullshit detection.


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