The Bush people say that they don’t torture people, yet they clearly waterboard them, considering it “getting tough” or maybe “torture lite” or as Dick Cheney puts it, a non-event, a mere “dunk in the water” . Last week the US Congress actually debated the issue: to waterboard or not to waterboard; that was the question.
Surely James Madison is spinning in his grave.
If you are wondering what exactly waterboarding is, where it came from, and why it really is torture—-David Corn has a good rundown:
Below are photographs taken by Jonah Blank last month at Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The prison is now a museum that documents Khymer Rouge atrocities. Blank, an anthropologist and former Senior Editor of US News & World Report, is author of the books Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God and Mullahs on the Mainframe. He is a professorial lecturer at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and has taught at Harvard and Georgetown. He currently is a foreign policy adviser to the Democratic staff in the Senate, but the views expressed here are his own observations.
His photos show one of the actual waterboards used by the Khymer Rouge. Here’s the first:
Here’s another view:
How were they used? Here’s a painting by a former prisoner that shows the waterboard in action:
In an email to me, Blank explained the significance of the photos. He wrote:
The crux of the issue before Congress can be boiled down to a simple question: Is waterboarding torture? Anybody who considers this practice to be “torture lite” or merely a “tough technique” might want to take a trip to Phnom Penh. The Khymer Rouge were adept at torture, and there was nothing “lite” about their methods. Incidentally, the waterboard in these photo wasn’t merely one among many torture devices highlighted at the prison museum. It was one of only two devices singled out for highlighting (the other was another form of water-torture–a tank that could be filled with water or other liquids; I have photos of that too.) There was an outdoor device as well, one the Khymer Rouge didn’t have to construct: chin-up bars. (The prison where the museum is located had been a school before the Khymer Rouge took over). These bars were used for “stress positions”– another practice employed under current US guidelines. At the Khymer Rouge prison, there is a tank of water next to the bars. It was used to revive prisoners for more torture when they passed out after being placed in stress positions.
The similarity between practices used by the Khymer Rouge and those currently being debated by Congress isn’t a coincidence. As has been amply documented (“The New Yorker” had an excellent piece, and there have been others), many of the “enhanced techniques” came to the CIA and military interrogators via the SERE [Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape] schools, where US military personnel are trained to resist torture if they are captured by the enemy. The specific types of abuse they’re taught to withstand are those that were used by our Cold War adversaries. Why is this relevant to the current debate? Because the torture techniques of North Korea, North Vietnam, the Soviet Union and its proxies–the states where US military personnel might have faced torture–were NOT designed to elicit truthful information. These techniques were designed to elicit CONFESSIONS. That’s what the Khymer Rouge et al were after with their waterboarding, not truthful information.
Bottom line: Not only do waterboarding and the other types of torture currently being debated put us in company with the most vile regimes of the past half-century; they’re also designed specifically to generate a (usually false) confession, not to obtain genuinely actionable intel. This isn’t a matter of sacrificing moral values to keep us safe; it’s sacrificing moral values for no purpose whatsoever.