Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Waterboarding--it really is torture

I don't usually cross-post things from the Coalition for Clarity blog, but this one's important; Mark Shea brought it to light earlier today. It's an article at Salon by Mark Benjamin, and in it Benjamin quotes extensively from DOJ documents detailing our practice of waterboarding terror suspects:

Interrogators pumped detainees full of so much water that the CIA turned to a special saline solution to minimize the risk of death, the documents show. The agency used a gurney "specially designed" to tilt backwards at a perfect angle to maximize the water entering the prisoner's nose and mouth, intensifying the sense of choking – and to be lifted upright quickly in the event that a prisoner stopped breathing.

The documents also lay out, in chilling detail, exactly what should occur in each two-hour waterboarding "session." Interrogators were instructed to start pouring water right after a detainee exhaled, to ensure he inhaled water, not air, in his next breath. They could use their hands to "dam the runoff" and prevent water from spilling out of a detainee's mouth. They were allowed six separate 40-second "applications" of liquid in each two-hour session – and could dump water over a detainee's nose and mouth for a total of 12 minutes a day. Finally, to keep detainees alive even if they inhaled their own vomit during a session – a not-uncommon side effect of waterboarding – the prisoners were kept on a liquid diet. The agency recommended Ensure Plus. [...]

That particular Bradbury memo laid out a precise and disturbing protocol for what went on in each waterboarding session. The CIA used a "specially designed" gurney for waterboarding, Bradbury wrote. After immobilizing a prisoner by strapping him down, interrogators then tilted the gurney to a 10-15 degree downward angle, with the detainee's head at the lower end. They put a black cloth over his face and poured water, or saline, from a height of 6 to 18 inches, documents show. The slant of the gurney helped drive the water more directly into the prisoner's nose and mouth. But the gurney could also be tilted upright quickly, in the event the prisoner stopped breathing.

Detainees would be strapped to the gurney for a two-hour "session." During that session, the continuous flow of water onto a detainee's face was not supposed to exceed 40 seconds during each pour. Interrogators could perform six separate 40-second pours during each session, for a total of four minutes of pouring. Detainees could be subjected to two of those two-hour sessions during a 24-hour period, which adds up to eight minutes of pouring. But the CIA's guidelines say interrogators could pour water over the nose and mouth of a detainee for 12 minutes total during each 24-hour period. The documents do not explain the extra four minutes to get to 12.

Interrogators were instructed to pour the water when a detainee had just exhaled so that he would inhale during the pour. An interrogator was also allowed to force the water down a detainee's mouth and nose using his hands. "The interrogator may cup his hands around the detainee's nose and mouth to dam the runoff," the Bradbury memo notes. "In which case it would not be possible for the detainee to breathe during the application of the water."

"We understand that water may enter – and accumulate in – the detainee's mouth and nasal cavity, preventing him from breathing," the memo admits.

But isn't this exactly what we did to our own troops, to train them to withstand waterboarding should the enemy try it? Well, no, not exactly:

Though public, the hundreds of pages of documents authorizing or later reviewing the agency's "enhanced interrogation program" haven't been mined for waterboarding details until now. While Bush-Cheney officials defended the legality and safety of waterboarding by noting the practice has been used to train U.S. service members to resist torture, the documents show that the agency's methods went far beyond anything ever done to a soldier during training. U.S. soldiers, for example, were generally waterboarded with a cloth over their face one time, never more than twice, for about 20 seconds, the CIA admits in its own documents.

These memos show the CIA went much further than that with terror suspects, using huge and dangerous quantities of liquid over long periods of time. The CIA's waterboarding was "different" from training for elite soldiers, according to the Justice Department document released last month. "The difference was in the manner in which the detainee's breathing was obstructed," the document notes. In soldier training, "The interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth (on a soldier's face) in a controlled manner," DOJ wrote. "By contrast, the agency interrogator ... continuously applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee's mouth and nose."

I think it is absolutely impossible to read the entire description of waterboarding as the CIA practiced it and conclude that this extremely painful and dangerous procedure somehow stopped short of being actual torture. Clearly the intent was to cause significant physical, emotional, and psychological pain and torment, for the purpose of compelling cooperation of a bound and restrained prisoner who had no recourse to any end to the torment aside from that cooperation.

I honestly don't see how any Catholic could look at this, and say, "Waterboarding is still not torture, and I'm free to support it." But if you want to make that argument, I'm interested in hearing it--mainly because I can't even imagine such an argument being made that does not fail to violate Catholic moral teaching. So, if you still believe waterboarding isn't torture, tell me why--I'm listening!


mac said...

Seems to me that the very most anyone can say in mitigation of this is that it's a comparatively mild form of torture compared to, say, the rack. And I have no doubt there was real concern for avoiding death or permanent physical injury. But I don't say how anyone can say it's not torture.

Elizabeth said...

I can't believe there are Catholics out there who are still on the fence about wether or not waterboarding is torture. The only reason they support it is because their supposedly pro-life party condones and practices it. If it were the liberal pro-choicers screaming for water torture then they would be against it.