Last week, the Bush Administration vetoed legislation that would have outlawed waterboarding after previously declaring the technique legal and ordering the CIA to resume its use. The CIA has expressed concerns about the technique's legality and acknowledged this month that they had in fact waterboarded terrorism suspects. President Bush should have heeded their warnings and signed the Intelligence Authorization bill sent to him by Congress. Waterboarding is torture.
Our country has a long history of punishing those who utilize this "enhanced interrogation technique."
During the Vietnam War, we court-martialed soldiers when we learned they had waterboarded prisoners. Senator John McCain, himself tortured during his captivity in Vietnam, labeled waterboarding 'exquisite torture.'
After World War II, we prosecuted several Japanese soldiers as war criminals for waterboarding American prisoners.
In the Spanish-American War, we sentenced a soldier in the Philippines to 10 years of hard labor for waterboarding a prisoner.
Waterboarding has been used by such nefarious regimes as Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and North Korea.
General Petraeus in 2007 stated, “Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. That would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary.”
Waterboarding was born in the Italian Inquisition and was used under various names, one being toca, but the other being far more accurate and illustrative, tortura de agua -- "water torture." The administration has used a certain amount of Orwellian doublespeak to obfuscate the nature of torture, preferring "enhanced interrogation technique" and "waterboarding" to "water torture," but better labels cannot remove the moral repugnance from so barbaric a practice.
Videos circulating on the Internet and in other media supposedly demonstrating water torture are not accurate. In these videos, a detainee lays calmly while water is trickled over him. In reality, a detainee is swiftly strapped to a board and water poured into his sinuses, which then begins filling the detainee's lungs, initiating the process of drowning. Excruciating pain ensues. The detainee is literally dying until the torturer stops. Their instinct to survive and avoid extreme pain takes over and often they will say whatever they feel will make the torture stop. That makes intelligence gathered by this method unreliable.
Our use of water torture is a boon to al-Qaida's recruitment efforts and propaganda campaigns. This horrifying process and the publicity surrounding the President's now full-throated endorsement of it severely undermines our moral authority in the ideological battle against extremists and terrorists. The reason is simple: torture is terrorism. It was used in the Inquisition to terrorize prisoners and put the words of the interrogator into the mouth of the victim, not to extract reliable intelligence. It violates every decent principle of humanity.
The United States must decide whether or not to be a nation that tortures. President Bush should immediately and unequivocally denounce the use of water torture and all other forms of torture. His administration claims that it is legal to water torture and has vetoed efforts by Congress to outlaw it. The president has also said repeatedly that "the United States does not torture." He cannot have it both ways.