Issue Report: Waterboarding

Is waterboarding a justified interrogation technique?

Waterboarding is an aggressive interrogation technique used in the United States during the Bush Administration that many consider to be torture. It consists of immobilizing a prisoner on his or her back with the head inclined downwards, and then pouring water over the face and into the breathing passages. By forced suffocation and inhalation of water, the subject experiences drowning and is caused to believe they are about to die. It is considered a form of torture by many legal experts, politicians, war veterans, intelligence officials, military judges, and human rights organizations. In 2007 it was reported that the CIA was using waterboarding on extrajudicial prisoners and that the United States Department of Justice had authorized the procedure, a revelation that sparked a worldwide political scandal. Al-Qaeda suspects upon whom the CIA is known to have used waterboarding include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. President Barack Obama banned the use of waterboarding. Donald Trump has considered whether to bring the practice back.

Not torture?: Is it wrong to call waterboarding torture?

Waterboarding leaves no lasting scars and so is not torture

Torture is defined by many groups as a only techniques that leaves lasting physical damage and scars on the person being tortured. This is not the case with waterboarding, which causes no permanent damage to the lungs and does not have a track record of causing lasting mental trauma to those that perform the techniques. If this was the case, the United States military would not perform waterboarding on its own soldiers for training purposes. While international organizations would take issue with a definition of torture that only includes physical damage, it would be a mistake to overlook the rational behind this definition.

Waterboarding is a mild interrogation technique

Waterboarding lasts for only a matter of a minutes, and does not result in any long-term damage to the body or mind. When compared to other interrogation techniques, this can be seen as a fairly mild procedure. In other interrogation techniques, the subject is often put through days or weeks of discomfort by being forced to stand or through prolonged periods of cold. The agony is prolonged over a much longer period, which may be more likely to cause long-term psychological damage.

Waterboarding is not torture; countries train own soldiers with it

In the United States, for example, waterboarding is performed on hundreds of US soldiers and spys in order to acclimatize them with the discomfort they may experience abroad under foreign custody and interrogation techniques. But, obviously, the US government would not “torture” its own soldiers. If waterboarding was legitimately a “torture” technique, it would be inconceivable that the US government would perform the technique on its own soldiers and spys. This would violate all military codes and would cause massive public protest. But, that the common practice of waterboarding US citizens by the US military does not result in such protest, seems to indicate very clearly that wateboarding is not “torture”. It is merely a highly uncomfortable practice, but because it does not inflict severe pain or suffering or any lasting effects, it does not qualify as torture, and is acceptably performed on US citizens for training purposes.

Waterboarding qualifies as torture

General statements that waterboarding constitutes torture. UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in 2008: “water-boarding amounts to torture.”

Waterboarding inflicts severe pain and suffering ("torture")

The consensus definition of torture in such conventions as the UN Convention against torture, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Courts is that it inflicts “severe pain and suffering” for the purpose of extracting information or a confession. Waterboarding inflicts “severe pain and suffering” by making its victim feel as though they are drowning and that their own death is inevitable. The terror of a near death experience can certainly be described as suffering and the pain of having your lungs filled with water and approaching near suffocation can be described as pain. Thus, water boarding inflicts “severe pain and suffering” and can be described as torture.

Waterboarding even fits the Bybee Memo definition of torture

Waterboarding seems to match the definition of the 2002 Bybee Memo, in which assistant AJ Jay Bybee defined torture as “physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death”. Waterboarding certainly fits the criteria of “impairment of bodily function”, since breathing can obviously be considered a major “bodily function”. Also, because lungs are organs, filling them with water does meet the criteria of inducing “organ failure”.

Water-boarding is drowning, not "simulated" drowning

While many supporters of waterboarding defend the practice as “simulated” drowning, waterboarding actually involves water entering the lungs, until suffocation or near suffocation. This is drowning, not “simulated” drowning. The only difference is that the suspect is not killed or is revived from death.

Those that experience waterboarding describe it as "torture"

Those military men and others that have voluntarily subjected themselves to waterboarding describe it as torture.

Waterboarding is much more terrifying to suspected terrorists than volunteers

Volunteers for waterboarding know they are not going to be permanently harmed or killed, whereas suspected terrorist does not.

US prosecuted foreign governments for waterboarding

Scott Shane and Mark Mazetti. "In Adopting Harsh Tactics, No Look at Past Use". New York Times. April 21, 2009

“waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition.”

If torture...: If waterboarding is "torture" is it still OK sometimes? See Debate: Torture

Torture is justified in saving lives.

It is justified to use water-boarding because it saves lives. Saving lives is the first obligation of the government; “to provide for the common defense.” The idea of saving lives MUST be held above ethical principles. Scenario: It would be justified for a kid in school to attack another kid if he tried to stab a lower classmate. This scenario can be applied to the US and its government. Not only is the government justified in using water-boarding, it is an obligation too as well if there is sufficient evidence that leads to the saving of lives.

Torture is justified in the "ticking time-bomb" scenario

There is substantial support to the notion that, from the decision-makers perspective, torture would be acceptable in the “ticking time-bomb” scenario as a means to save thousands if not millions of lives. (This argument’s page provides links to general support to this argument, not detailed sub-arguments within it – below)

Torture is always wrong

The ends do not justify the means in the case of torture. Because we accept that torture is always morally wrong, even if torture had the potential to save lives, it is unacceptable to sacrifice principle to achieve these ends.

Torture violates the dignity of the human being

David P. Gushee. "5 Reasons Torture Is Always Wrong And why there should be no exceptions." February 1st, 2006

“Torture violates the dignity of the human being. Every inch of the human body and every aspect of the human spirit comes from God and bears witness to his handiwork. We are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28). Human dignity, value, and worth come as a permanent and ineradicable endowment of the Creator to every person.”

Torture violates protections of the vulnerable

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