On Waterboarding

While I was rounding up interesting links for you this morning, gentle readers, I included a link about the Bush nominee for attorney general, Michael Mukasey, who just can’t seem to decide whether or not waterboarding constitutes torture. This has been a pretty big issue in the news lately, because it touches on the larger issue of torture performed by representatives of the American government. As an American citizen, I feel like I need to take a personal and clear stance against all forms of torture, because it is not OK with me to see people performing acts of torture in the name of my government, and therefore in my name as well.

So, I thought we’d have a little chat about waterboarding today, gentle readers, so you can decide whether or not you think it’s torture, and then we can talk about whether or not torture is ok, and why I hold the opinion on it that I do.

Waterboarding, for those of you who are unfamiliar with this practice, is a type of controlled drowning. The subject is immobilized, classically on a board, while water is poured over his or her face. The body is usually inclined so that the subject’s head is lower than the feet. I would like to note that waterboarding used to be included in counterintelligence training for American soldiers and sailors, but “the trainees could not survive it without breaking, which was bad for morale,” so they stopped doing it.

I would consider this torture. It involves the deliberate infliction of discomfort, fear, and pain on someone with the intent of extracting information. The UN Convention Against Torture also happens to consider waterboarding to be torture, which means that it is not legal under international law. Considering that we have ratified this convention, we have agreed to abide by it, and we could potentially face prosecution for approving waterboarding as an interrogation tactic. I mean not we as in me and other American citizens, but we as in our military and government. We even prosecuted a Japanese national for waterboarding in 1947, which suggests that at one point, the United States did not approve of this practice.

I have two reasons for not liking torture in general, and I happen to think that they are both pretty valid reasons.

The first is that it is not a good method for gathering intelligence. Someone who is being tortured will not respond honestly or accurately to questioning, because the desire is to end the torture. Torture victims may also lie and tell their interrogator what they think the interrogator wants to hear. Testimony derived from torture is banned in many courts for this very reason. Therefore, torture is bad practice for the point of view of someone who wants to get usable intelligence.

In addition, torture is also wrong. I do not think that the infliction of pain, humiliation, and psychological distress is a reasonable thing to do to other humans. I don’t care if those other humans killed people or were involved in conspiracies. It deeply troubles me to see people supporting torture or waffling on the subject, since it suggests that they lack basic humanity. No one in their right mind could possibly believe that torture is an ok thing to do, so why is Mukasey getting away with pussyfooting around?

Furthermore, a lot of these people who can’t make up their minds about waterboarding call themselves Christian. I don’t call myself Christian, personally, although I think that Christ was a pretty sweet dude, and I believe in a lot of Christian values like love, respect, lending a hand where a hand is needed, valuing other people for their humanity, humility, and so on. I’m pretty sure that torture conflicts with these values. I mean, I don’t know, I’m not an official Christian, so who am I to say, but I am fairly certain that Jesus did not approve of torture. In fact, the torture of Christ is a pretty major event in the Bible, and it doesn’t make the Romans look very good. I think that if you are going to call yourself Christian, you need to live like Christ, and I don’t think that Christ would have been indecisive on the issue of torture.

If you have any doubts about waterboarding, I would like to point out that it was also used by the Spanish Inquisition and Pol Pot. I wouldn’t look to Pol Pot as a role model for acceptable behavior, personally. But maybe that’s just me.