COLUMN: The United States of Waterboarding

By Eric Naing

Imagine that you are bound flat, but at an incline so that your lungs are above your head. A sheet of cellophane is wrapped over your face and gallons of water are poured onto it. Your gag reflex kicks in; suddenly you experience the sensation of drowning. According to Rush Limbaugh, you have just experienced some harmless frat hazing. According to the president, you have not been tortured.

This is called waterboading and it is one of many “alternative methods” used by the CIA to interrogate its prisoners in the war on terror. ABC News reports that trained CIA agents who have experienced waterboarding last only for an average of 14 seconds before they give in.

Now imagine that you have been denied sleep for 55 days. You are thrown naked in a cell that is kept at 50 degrees. You are repeatedly doused with water and then threatened by dogs. Soon you have hypothermia and are taken to a hospital to prevent you from dying. Then you are taken back to your cell to experience the whole thing all over again – lather, rinse, repeat.

These are real things that our government is doing to people at this very moment in Guantanamo Bay, in Iraq and in Soviet-era secret prisons all across Eastern Europe which are outside the law. To the rational thinker, this is a tragic violation of any number of domestic and international laws. To this administration and its supporters, this is not a big deal at all.

When asked about the CIA’s practice of shackling prisoners to the floor in stressful positions for 40 hours or more, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld quipped, “I stand for 8-10 hours a day.” Limbaugh even created a spoof resort called Club G’itmo in which he welcomes you to “have fun with the stupid liberals whining about Guantanamo Bay, Cuba!” To them, torture is something to be laughed at.

Every time President Bush, Secretary of State Rice or any other administration claims that the United States does not torture, they are lying. What we are doing is a direct breach of the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Declaration on Torture.

Nobody is arguing that we need to be soft on terrorists, but torture benefits nobody.

As a former CIA officer notes, “you can get anyone to confess to anything if the torture’s bad enough.” According to ABC News, after being waterboarded, one detainee falsely confessed to a direct connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida – something which eventually became a justification for invading Iraq. As another former CIA officer notes, “it is better to build a relationship of trust … than to extract quick confessions through tactics such as those used by the Nazis and the Soviets.”

By violating the Geneva conventions, we also put our own troops at risk. The Conventions dictate how wars are fought and establish protections for civilians and prisoners of war. By shunning them, we are jeopardizing the lives of our soldiers in this conflict and in future ones.

Now the White House is trying to pass a detainee bill which would essentially legalize torture. Not only is the president politicizing a serious issue, but he is also still refusing to admit what he actually wants to do. This bill will throw out over 100 years of international law and make torture the official policy of the United States.

The astonishing thing is that few in our government and media seem to recognize how surreal this whole debate is. Our president is ceding the moral high ground to Osama bin Laden while our politicians and pundits are arguing whether or not torturing people will help the Republicans in the midterm elections.

Men like Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush who have never seen a day of combat are resorting to the tactics of our enemies at the risk of our soldiers. The soul of the United Sates is at risk.