Waterboarding is a term used to whitewash a method of torture whereby a person is subjected to the sensation of drowning. Although undeniably - at least by those who have experienced it - a form of torture, it's often claimed not to be in order to legalize it, or at least make the public believe it to be less than brutal. After all, "torture" is only something bad people do.
The "procedure" involves strapping a victim down, and either covering their head with plastic, be it cling-film or plastic bag, or by stuffing a cloth into their mouth. Then the victim is tilted so their head is lower than their body. Water is then poured slowly and steadily over the victim's face and head. As the victim cannot speak while being waterboarded, they are generally given a dead man's drop (A small weight of some sort, which they hold in one or both hands), which they will release when they are ready to co-operate and give up information. The experience of the inability to breathe combined with water flooding the throat and nasal cavities is
similar to the experience of drowning, and pretty much sucks. If done too incorrectly or for too long, waterboarding can result in drowning and death, blocked air passages, choking on vomit or a heart attack.
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Waterboarding has been documented since at least the Spanish Inquisition, and drowning, because of the intense fear it provokes in the victim, has been a popular torture method ever since. Waterboarding is seen as a better tactic than most other forms of torture (read: beating the shit out of people) because if done correctly, it causes no immediate physical harm. This makes it easier to cover up, and allows it to be used far more often, as the subject does not have to heal between sessions. As there are no physical marks left on the subject, waterboarding can be easily denied after the interrogee's release.
After World War II, the United States tried, convicted, and executed Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American POWs. It was also used by both sides during the Vietnam War and the British during The Troubles. Much of the American experience is based on these two scenarios. During the Vietnam War, "high risk of capture" personnel (special forces and aviators) were trained to resist waterboarding, among other forms of torture, at the hands of potential captors. The British refined the technique during The Troubles, a period of unofficial armed conflict with the IRA. The British wanted a way to extract information from captured IRA operatives, without giving the IRA a rallying cry. It is worth noting that the British abandoned the tactic fairly quickly, realizing that bribery, SIGINT (Signals Intelligence, or intercepting and decoding enemy communication) and infiltration were far more effective techniques.
 Modern controversy
After 9/11, the U.S. government under George W. Bush routinely engaged in (and apparently still does under the Obama administration) questionable practices such as suspension of habeus corpus, extrajudicial imprisonment, and torture.
The truly sad part is that there was a debate at all when it came to torture, a method of interrogation that experts agree is not useful, and which violates every formal or informal understanding of human rights.
In 2008, the then-United States Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, refused to define waterboarding as torture. Ironically (or perhaps not), when asked if it would be torture if "done to him", Mukasey responded, "I would feel that it was".
 Does it work?
Given that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was subjected to the procedure 183 times, there would seem to be some doubt about its effectiveness - as it presumably didn't work the first 182 times. However, the actual number of times he was waterboarded depends on how you define the procedure - although he had water poured up his nose 183 times while he was tied down, Fox News maintains that he was only tied down five times while he had water poured up his nose 183 times. So that's all right then, as it's only five examples of torture, rather than two hundred.
Jesse Ventura, the former governor of Minnesota and a former Navy Seal who was actually waterboarded as part of his military training, said that waterboarding "is torture... It's drowning. It gives you the complete sensation that you are drowning. It is no good, because you -- I'll put it to you this way, you give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I'll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders."
In a word, no.
In a lot of words, torture in general is a highly unreliable method of intelligence gathering — that so many people in the past had admitted to being witches under torture should set off alarm bells there. It assumes that previous intelligence is correct, and even if it is, subjects can be easily driven to give up false information, or admit to things which they were not involved in. If the wrong person is captured, or the previous intelligence is incorrect, this not only leads to false imprisonment, but allows the real responsible parties to get away. Often, captured subjects know far less than the interrogator would like, but will fabricate intelligence in order to stop the torture. Again, this is actually harmful to the interrogator's cause, as it leads to wild goose chases, wasting valuable time and resources.
While it is true that some intelligence can be gleaned through torture, it is almost always of no consequence, outdated, or misleading. John McCain, for example, gave up the names of his squad, a tidbit of intelligence that had no bearing on any future operations. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed likewise confessed to numerous plots while being tortured, including plans to attack Sears Tower, Big Ben, and other landmarks, and assassination plots on Pope John Paul II, Pervez Musharraf and Bill Clinton; all of these were later proven to be fabrications, designed to stop the torture. Lastly, IRA operatives were even known to use this fabricated intelligence to lead the British into traps.
With the numerous other methods of intelligence gathering (payoffs and bribes, SIGINT, infiltration, negotiation, aerial reconnaissance, covert operations, and so forth), torture is not a valid tactic. It is one generally employed only by a desperately poor force, or by sadists and sociopaths.
 Late experiments
- A RW editor who shall remain anonymous accidentally let the bath water run up their nose, and it actually hurt. It was painful. And they didn't even think they were drowning, seriously, since they could sit up. As evidenced by their surviving to type this. Shit, forced drowning sucks, seriously. Please make it illegal, as it always was, Barack?
- Another RW editor allowed some friends to waterboard him during a drinking session and can assert that it is really, really unpleasant.
- Another RW editor who was actually waterboarded as part of his military training will admit that it is torture. The official military line is not that waterboarding simulates drowning, but that it is drowning, and it simulates imminent death. Incorrectly done, waterboarding can be lethal, and even correctly done it can create permanent mental scarring, even outright insanity after long term exposure. It was also the official military line that torture in all forms is a worthless tactic, as the victim will admit to anything to stop the torture. For gathering useful intelligence, it is far better to resort to the time honored tactic of bribery!
- In a somewhat different twist, another RW editor played the waterboard torturer creating a minor national media stir. Once more it was demonstrated to be very unpleasant, and not particularly good for the psychological health of the torturer either.
 See also
- ↑ Believe Me, It's Torture - article by Christopher Hitchens
- ↑ Bet you didn't expect that, did ya?
- ↑ Mukasey has gone on to endorse the new book by Marc Thiessen, one of Bush's speechwriters, in which he claims that the CIA's actions, especially torture, helped to keep America safe.
- ↑ N Y Times on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed
- ↑ Fox News on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed
- ↑ Three Young Men Try Waterboarding And Tell the Tale
- ↑ Our inner Eichmann