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CIA Waterboarding Torture

CIA Waterboarding Torture

What is waterboarding?

Without a doubt, the most controversial torture method to grab public attention in recent years has been the practice of waterboarding.

What is Waterboarding?

Waterboarding involves strapping a person to an inclined platform so their legs and feet are higher that the head. The arms and legs are bound so the person can not move, and cloth or a sheet of cellophane is placed over the face, in some case the person can also be gagged, water is then repeatedly poured on the face.

Although the technique does not actually drown a person, the rushing water and inability to move make them panic; gag reflexes kick in and they think they are choking. The effects are purely psychological, as no physical harm is inflicted, however when it comes to interrogation, the results are effective, some may say too effective.

According to an article posted on How Stuff Works, CIA agents who underwent waterboarding as part of anti interrogation methods, lasted an average of 14 seconds. The Navy SEALS were also reported as utilizing waterboarding as part of its training, however it was quickly axed because no trainees could hold out, and breaking at such an early stage was deemed bad for morale.

khmer rouge waterboard

Khmer Rouge Waterboard

Image Credit: waterboardingdotorg, 2009.

Although the technique may have gained notoriety during the Bush administration, the torture method has been around for centuries. As early as the 1500s the technique was used during the Italian Inquisition, and more famously employed in the Cambodian prisons of the Khmer Rouge regime during the 1970s. In World War II there was reports of the Japanese using the technique against Americans. In 1947, a Japanese soldier who was found guilty of water boarding a U.S. citizen was jailed for 15 years for war crimes.

1902 waterboard torture

Waterboarding From 1902

Image Credit: The Ardvaark, 2008.

The torture method hit the headlines once again when it made it’s way onto the CIA’s list of enhance interrogation methods. And according How Stuff Works, memos released by the U.S. Department of Justice in April 2009, put water boarding in the ‘top 10 torture techniques authorized for the interrogation of an al-Qaida operative.’

Aside from the obvious human right issues, one of the main concerns regarding waterboarding is that it is so effective in breaking a persons will, that almost any suspect suddenly becomes willing to confess to anything, even crimes they did not commit. But, considering some torture methods and punishments administered in medieval times – think hung, drawn and quartered, tarred and feathered – I’d say we’ve come somewhat of a long way since then.

The debate on whether or not waterboarding should be considered an illegal torture method goes on, unofficially. The practice has been ruled illegal for military interrogation, however it still remains legal for agencies such as the CIA.

Related Posts:


  1. Julia Layton: What is Water Boarding? How Stuff Works, 2010.
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