Basic Facts about Waterboarding

1) Waterboarding is NOT an “enhanced interrogation technique.” It is torture. It is not a slick way to beguile people into talking. It is the application of unbearable physical suffering and terrifying panic to compel a desired behavior.

2) Waterboarding is NOT “simulated drowning.” It IS drowning. Water is forced into the lungs and breathing made impossible in a controlled manner, producing a slow motion suffocation. That is not simulation. News media that perpetuate the description “simu-lated drowning” are accomplices after the fact.

3) Waterboarding IS illegal under U.S. and international law, and no quantity of Presidential signing statements or memoranda from the Office of Legal Counsel can change that fact. Following World War II the United States prosecuted as war criminals the Japanese officers responsible for waterboarding captured U.S. servicemen.

4) Waterboarding has the “advantage” of leaving no physical scars. It is part of an arsenal of U.S. psychological torture methods that include sensory deprivation, stress positions, extreme cold, loud incessant music, sleep deprivation, and disorientation through the manipulation of meal times, light, and lack of human contact.

5) The excuse has been offered that if Judge Mukasey were to admit that waterboarding is torture, then U.S. operatives might be subject to criminal or civil penalties. If U.S. operatives have committed acts of torture, then they SHOULD be subject to criminal and civil penalties. After World War II, were war criminals granted retroactive immunity?

6) All students at the Navy’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School (SERE) in San Diego are required to undergo waterboarding and become completely familiar with this technique. This school is used by Navy SEALS and other special forces.


Waterboarding is a form of torture that our government has admitted authorizing for use on military detainees. The practice involves tying a person down to a board, covering their face with a cloth, and pouring water into their nose and mouth, causing suffocation as the victim’s lungs fill with water. It leaves no physical scars, which is one reason why governments and militaries throughout history –including ours—have employed it.

Malcolm Nance, a former U.S. Navy instructor who witnessed, supervised, and led waterboarding hundreds of times as part of a naval training program, has said:

“In the media, waterboarding is called ‘simulated drowning,’ but that's a misnomer. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning….Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.”
[NY DAILY NEWS, Oct 31, 2007]
The history of waterboarding is long and brutal. University of Pennsylvania historian Ed Peters has said the practice was used to extract confessions as far back as the 1300s. In any event, over the centuries, the use of waterboarding has been documented: Against accused “heretics” during the Spanish Inquisition ; at the turn of the 19th century, by the U.S. military in its war against the Phillipines; in the 1960s, again by the U.S. military, this time during the Vietnam War; under the Pinochet Regime in Chile; and in 1983, by Texas Sheriff James Parker, who sought to force confessions from prisoners.
Following World War II, the United States filed war crimes charges against a Japanese officer, accusing him of waterboarding a U.S. civilian. The officer, Yukio Asano, was convicted and received a 15-year-sentence.

While the use of waterboarding dates back centuries, a government openly acknowledging authorizing it is a new phenomenon. But that is exactly what the Bush Regime has done.
*On February 5, 2008, CIA Director Michael Hayden stood before Congress and admitted CIA officers waterboarded three detainees: Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim Nashiri.

*On April 9, 2008, ABC News reported that Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, John Ashcroft, Colin Powell, and George Tenet met regularly in the White House to discuss and approve various forms of torture—including waterboarding—for use on detainees.

*On April 11, 2008, President George W. Bush himself admitted approving these meetings, saying: “And yes, I'm aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved.”

Under international law, waterboarding is torture – and thus a war crime:
*Article 1 of The United Nations Convention Against Torture –which the United States ratified in 1994- defines torture as: “Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

There is zero doubt that waterboarding carried out by our government constitutes excruciating mental and physical pain intentionally inflicted in order to intimidate and gain information. Therefore, it is clearly torture.

The Convention Against Torture also makes clear that there are no exceptions – “whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency” in which a country may practice torture (Article 2) and that it is illegal for an individual nation to pass laws legalizing torture (Article 4).

*But if there were somehow any doubt… On February 7, 2008 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour officially declared that waterboarding is torture. She added that those who violate the UN Convention Against Torture should be prosecuted as war criminals.

While a particularly brutal and sickening practice, waterboarding is only one part of an entire package of torture and illegal detention polices approved at the highest levels of our government, and carried out systematically:

*As of December 2007, the U.S. was known to be holding 275 detainees in Guantanamo Bay, (“Gitmo” )Cuba. All but a handful of these detainees have never been charged, and have never received trial. The vast majority of these detainees were turned over to the U.S. by warlords – not captured in battlefield.

The U.S. military only characterizes 8 percent of these detainees as Al-Qaeda fighters.

*As shown in the Oscar-winning documentary “Taxi to the Dark Side”, detainees at Guantanamo, Iraq, and Afghanistan are routinely subjected to forms of torture including extreme sensory deprivation, isolation, attacks with dogs, and vicious physical and sexual abuse. All of which is sanctioned by the highest levels of our government.

Waterboarding is torture.
Torture is a war crime and crime against humanity.
It must be brought to a halt, and those responsible held accountable as war criminals.
We won’t live in a torture state.

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