Another Look at Waterboarding

Another Look at Waterboarding

Forgive me for pursuing waterboarding torture now that the subject has slipped from public attention. I can’t let it go because there is an outside chance that one of my ancestors was a victim of waterboard torture 700 years ago during the Spanish Inquisition. That was pure evil then, it is pure evil now.

Beyond that motivating factor, I may have surmised an explanation for the illegal destruction of the videotapes by the CIA of interrogations of prisoners during which extreme methods were used, including prolonged exposure to cold, heat, nudity, physical discomfort, and waterboarding. In waterboarding, water is poured over a prisoner’s mouth and nose to produce a feeling of suffocation. Sometimes, in the absence of restraining equipment, the prisoner’s head is pushed into a toilet until he says “uncle” or “Osama bin Laden” or whatever confession is sought by the torturers.

According to intelligence officials, interrogation tapes were destroyed out of concern for the physical and legal safety of CIA agents who appear on the tapes. However, the physical danger would be nil as long as the tapes remained in the possession of the CIA; the legal exposure would be protected by the secret legal opinions of the Justice Department that waterboarding and other pressures are not torture and are lawful acts. These opinions rely on the President’s wartime powers, enabling him to contravene the Geneva Conventions and the Army Field Manual which protect prisoners of war.

Let me suggest alternative explanations for the unauthorized destruction of the videotapes, destruction in violation of government regulations and a specific court order. Isn’t it likely that the repeated use of waterboarding that brings the prisoner to the verge of suffocation could actually have resulted in death by drowning or heart attack or fright? In that case, destroying the tape would be a cover-up.

Another possibility is that the tapes might reveal that the punishing techniques were not effective. President Bush and other government spokesmen have claimed that CIA harsh interrogation has produced crucial information but experienced FBI agents have opposed the use of coercive techniques as counterproductive and unreliable. For the tapes to decide these differences, they would have to prove that accurate information was obtained, information important for operations. If the tapes did not make the case, then the tapes had to be destroyed to protect the careers of those who’ve made wrong decisions.

The moral and legal questions about torture cannot be put aside. For generations, Americans have been appalled and sickened by the use of torture by other countries. We like to think that America is above such reprehensible conduct. It will take a thorough housecleaning and change in policy to restore our self respect, the first step in achieving the respect of the people of the rest of the world.

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