The torture debate continually references the technique of Waterboarding in various forms. While military interrigators are no longer allowed to use the technique, CIA interrogations may still utilize it. Ideological bias seems to be the best predictor for the language used to describe Waterboarding, ranging from "annoying" to "torture." The practice has been compared to fraternity hazing, "swirlies," and other juvenile abuses as well as the tortures employed by the Nazis, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Khmer Rouge.
Clinically, waterboarding or water-torture follows a fairly strict formula. The victim is placed, on his back, on a stiff wooden board and lashed to the board at the head and feet. Additional bindings may restrain the chest, arms, and waist as necessary. The board is then placed at an incline such that the feet are higher than the head. This distorts the victim's sense of equilibrium.
In earlier times, the board would be afixed to a hinge next to a large tub of water. The feet could then be lifted, plunging the head underwater. Inverted, the victim could not keep water from pouring into the nostrils. Today's waterboarding is somewhat different. An inclined board is still used, but a peice of cellophane or a towell is placed over the victim's face. Water is poured onto this surface, forming an air-tight seal around the nose and mouth and forcing the plastic or fabric into the mouth and nose.
In both cases the result is identical. Deep seated fears of drowning kick in as instinctual behavior takes over. The victim panics, struggling to free himself and struggling for oxygen. CIA agents who voluntarily subjected themselves to the treatment broke within 20 to 30 seconds, begging their interrigators for mercy. An Al Queda prisoner of note lasted two minutes under the treatment, earning him the respect of his interrigators for his formidable strength of will.
Late effects of the technique are varied amongst victims. Almost none are able to endure the threat, let alone the act, of waterboarding again. It becomes an Orwellian "Room 101" for them, a psycological terror they will do anything to avoid. Many are afflicted with a deblitating fear of water, or even rain and find themselves unable to endure the feeling of water on the skin at all. Simple daily tasks such as showering and washing the face become all but impossible for them.
Is waterboarding "torture" in the sense of the rack or other more physical means of interrogation? Very possibly. The technique was certainly used by groups that lacked compunctions about torture and in place of more physical methods throughout history. Ultimately though, decisions on right and wrong, moral and immoral are ones that must be made personally.
Should the United States allow waterboarding as an interrogation technique for use on suspected terrorists? Should the technique be used against suspected drug smugglers, suspected murders, suspected rapists? Talking points and spin are of little use here. Americans must examine thoughtfully what they belive.