At Small Wars Journal, former SERE instructor Malcom Nance argues that waterboarding is toture, period, and can't be rationally argued otherwise.
One problem with public understanding of what waterboarding entails is that there is apparently more than one way to inflict it. The Nazis used to waterboard by strapping the victim face down on a board, the top edge of the board ending below the chin. They'd then dunk the victim's head under the water and bring him (or her - they were equal-opportunity torturers) back up at the incipience of terror as the victims they couldn't hold their breath any longer.
... As a former Master Instructor and Chief of Training at the US Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School (SERE) in San Diego, California I know the waterboard personally and intimately. SERE staff were required undergo the waterboard at its fullest. I was no exception. I have personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people. ...
2. Waterboarding is not a simulation. Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.
Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim’s face) and the obstinacy of the subject. A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience, to horrific suffocating punishment to the final death spiral.
Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration –usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten with its use again and again.
As I understand how "the American model" is done, which Chief Nance is talking about, the victim is strapped face up on the board (one presumes it could just as well be a long table), then plastic qrap, like Saran wrap, is place over the victims face, cutting off breathing through both mouth and nose. Then a small hole, about the size you could make with a writing pen, is punched through the wrap in the middle of the mouth.
Understand, the victim must breathe - you can't stop your self from breathing except for a few tens of seconds. So once he starts to suck air through the little hole in the wrap, the torturers start pouring water through the hole. That's how, as Chief Nance points out, the victim's lungs start to fill with water. He literally inhales it because the torturers make sure they pour water into his mouth when he breathes in.
Anyone think that is not one of the most terrifying things a human being could experience?
Chief Nance concludes,
It is outrageous that American officials, including the Attorney General and a legion of minions of lower rank have not only embraced this torture but have actually justified it, redefined it to a misdemeanor, brought it down to the level of a college prank and then bragged about it. The echo chamber that is the American media now views torture as a heroic and macho.
Quite so. Read the whole article. (HT: Winds of Change)