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Debate: Waterboarding

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Is waterboarding a justified interrogation technique?

Background and content

Waterboarding is an aggressive interrogation technique used in the United States during the Bush Administration that many consider to be torture.
It consists of immobilizing a prisoner on his or her back with the head inclined downwards, and then pouring water over the face and into the breathing passages. By forced suffocation and inhalation of water, the subject experiences drowning and is caused to believe they are about to die. It is considered a form of torture by many legal experts, politicians, war veterans, intelligence officials, military judges, and human rights organizations.

In 2007 it was reported that the CIA was using waterboarding on extrajudicial prisoners and that the United States Department of Justice had authorized the procedure, a revelation that sparked a worldwide political scandal. Al-Qaeda suspects upon whom the CIA is known to have used waterboarding include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

President Barack Obama banned the use of waterboarding.

See Wikipedia: Waterboarding for more background.

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Not torture? Is it wrong to call waterboarding torture?

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Yes

  • Waterboarding leaves no lasting scars and so is not torture - Torture is defined by many groups as a only techniques that leaves lasting physical damage and scars on the person being tortured. This is not the case with waterboarding, which causes no permanent damage to the lungs and does not have a track record of causing lasting mental trauma to those that perform the techniques. If this was the case, the United States military would not perform waterboarding on its own soldiers for training purposes. While international organizations would take issue with a definition of torture that only includes physical damage, it would be a mistake to overlook the rational behind this definition.
  • Waterboarding is a mild interrogation technique - Waterboarding lasts for only a matter of a minutes, and does not result in any long-term damage to the body or mind. When compared to other interrogation techniques, this can be seen as a fairly mild procedure. In other interrogation techniques, the subject is often put through days or weeks of discomfort by being forced to stand or through prolonged periods of cold. The agony is prolonged over a much longer period, which may be more likely to cause long-term psychological damage.
  • Waterboarding is not torture; countries train own soldiers with it - In the United States, for example, waterboarding is performed on hundreds of US soldiers and spys in order to acclimatize them with the discomfort they may experience abroad under foreign custody and interrogation techniques. But, obviously, the US government would not "torture" its own soldiers. If waterboarding was legitimately a "torture" technique, it would be inconceivable that the US government would perform the technique on its own soldiers and spys. This would violate all military codes and would cause massive public protest. But, that the common practice of waterboarding US citizens by the US military does not result in such protest, seems to indicate very clearly that wateboarding is not "torture". It is merely a highly uncomfortable practice, but because it does not inflict severe pain or suffering or any lasting effects, it does not qualify as torture, and is acceptably performed on US citizens for training purposes.


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No

  • Waterboarding inflicts severe pain and suffering ("torture") - The consensus definition of torture in such conventions as the UN Convention against torture, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Courts is that it inflicts "severe pain and suffering" for the purpose of extracting information or a confession. Waterboarding inflicts "severe pain and suffering" by making its victim feel as though they are drowning and that their own death is inevitable. The terror of a near death experience can certainly be described as suffering and the pain of having your lungs filled with water and approaching near suffocation can be described as pain. Thus, water boarding inflicts "severe pain and suffering" and can be described as torture.
  • Waterboarding even fits the Bybee Memo definition of torture - Waterboarding seems to match the definition of the 2002 Bybee Memo, in which assistant AJ Jay Bybee defined torture as "physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death". Waterboarding certainly fits the criteria of "impairment of bodily function", since breathing can obviously be considered a major "bodily function". Also, because lungs are organs, filling them with water does meet the criteria of inducing "organ failure".
  • Water-boarding is drowning, not "simulated" drowning. While many supporters of waterboarding defend the practice as "simulated" drowning, waterboarding actually involves water entering the lungs, until suffocation or near suffocation. This is drowning, not "simulated" drowning. The only difference is that the suspect is not killed or is revived from death.
  • Waterboarding is much more terrifying to suspected terrorists than volunteers Many volunteers have subjected themselves to waterboarding. Some have described it as torture and some have described it as a milder "interrogation" technique. But, the experience of a volunteer is controlled, and is likely much more mild than the experience of a suspected terrorist who is subject to the technique for the purpose of extracting information. The main difference is that the volunteer knows they will not be killed or seriously harmed, while the suspected terrorist does not know this, and interrogaters are likely much more willing to push the limits with a suspected terrorist.


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If torture... If waterboarding is "torture" is it still OK sometimes? See Debate: Torture

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Yes

  • Torture is justified in saving lives. It is justified to use water-boarding because it saves lives. Saving lives is the first obligation of the government; "to provide for the common defense." The idea of saving lives MUST be held above ethical principles. Scenario: It would be justified for a kid in school to attack another kid if he tried to stab a lower classmate. This scenario can be applied to the US and its government. Not only is the government justified in using water-boarding, it is an obligation too as well if there is sufficient evidence that leads to the saving of lives.
  • Torture is justified in the "ticking time-bomb" scenario - There is substantial support to the notion that, from the decision-makers perspective, torture would be acceptable in the "ticking time-bomb" scenario as a means to save thousands if not millions of lives. (This argument's page provides links to general support to this argument, not detailed sub-arguments within it - below)


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No


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Punishment: Could waterboarding be a fitting punishment?

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Yes

  • Waterboarding justly brings a terrorist face-to-face with death - Waterboarding creates the special effect and feeling of drowning, and the inescapable fear of death. For a terrorist that wishes death upon his victims, it is just to bring him face-to-face with death through waterboarding. Considering that his victims are not given the luxury to live on, waterboarding is a a proportional punishment. And, by bringing a terrorist face-to-face with that which he wishes upon his victims, there is the remote possibility that he will ask forgiveness and seek redemption.


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No

  • Suspected information-holders cannot be punished for crimes they do not commit. While it is often claimed that a suspected terrorist is set to kill others, and thus his torture is justified, this does not necessarily make sense. The suspected terrorist in custody is not going to directly kill anyone. They are merely suspected to have information that could possibly lead to the interception of those that are threatening to kill others. The disconnect is so wide between the suspected terrorists and the victims that the notion of "punishing" the suspected terrorist in custody does not make sense.


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War on terror? Is waterboarding valuable to the war on terror?

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Yes

  • Waterboarding is highly valuable in the war on terror - Water-boarding is a highly effective interrogation method for obtaining information. It produces a very intense period of time for a terrorist or suspected terrorist that has very likely to compel a terrorist to provide information. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is very frequently cited as an instance in which waterboarding was used very effectively, causing Mohammed to provide "treasure troves" of important intelligence that helped save lives.




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No

  • Information obtained through waterboarding is unreliable - Waterboarding creates such a state of near-death desparation and terror, the victim will do almost anything to prevent the experience from being repeated, including providing any information (even if false) to satisfy their assailants. This information, therefore, cannot be relied on as helpful in the war on terror.
  • It's not clear that waterboarding obtained good information from Khalid Sheik Mohammed - It is claimed that waterboarding obtained a "gold mine" of information from 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed. But, without public knowledge of the exact information, it is not clear that this is the case. In addition, it is likely that Mohammed calculated to provide information that was not central to Al Qaeda's various missions, but that would be seen by his interrogators as a "gold mine".



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Pro/con resources

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Yes


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No


See also

External links and resources


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