Monday, October 29, 2007


When I read this Jonathan Turley Op-Ed on Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey, I found myself nodding along with Turley's assessment of Mukasey's views on waterboarding, and what they said about his qualifications as a nominee.

At first, [Mukasey] repeatedly stated that he does not support torture, which violates the U.S. Constitution. This is precisely the answer given so often by President Bush like a mantra. The problem is that Bush defines torture to exclude things like water-boarding...

The senators pushed Mukasey to go beyond the Bush administration mantra. He refused and then said something that made many of us who were listening gasp: "I don't know what is involved in the technique," he said.

There are only two explanations for this answer, either of which should compel the senators to vote against confirmation. The first is that Mukasey is the most ill-informed nominee in the history of this republic...To say he is unfamiliar with the technique is perhaps the single greatest claim of ignorance since Clarence Thomas testified at his confirmation that he really had not thought enough about abortion to have an opinion on the subject.

The second possibility is, unfortunately, the more likely explanation: Mukasey is lying.

Fair enough. If even I had at least a basic understanding of waterboarding, Mukasey should be in a position to give an informed response right then and there. Here's what I recently discovered after reading Malcolm Nance though: I didn't really know what was involved in the technique. Nance is a former Master Instructor and Chief of Training at the US Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School (SERE) where he "personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people" as part of that organization's torture resistance training (a clue as to how the US Navy categorizes waterboarding).

SERE was designed to show how an evil totalitarian, enemy would use torture at the slightest whim. If this is the case, then waterboarding is unquestionably being used as torture technique.

But that much, I knew. These details, however, I was unaware of:

Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.

Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim’s face) and the obstinacy of the subject. A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience, to horrific suffocating punishment to the final death spiral.

Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration – usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten with its use again and again. [emphasis added throughout]

I readily confess to my ignorance of the fact that the lungs are actually filled with water during the procedure. From the media reports that I've perused, I was under the impression that no water actually enters the mouth of the prisoner. Rather, that it was a simulation using some type of cover over the mouth combined with the pouring of water in order to trigger an irrational - if palpable - fear.

The description of the technique as it is actually practiced is far more disturbing than imagined. Nance's unequivocal conclusion is appropriate: "Waterboarding is torture…period." Any person who would be Attorney General should be able and willing to give the same, clear answer.

(via Duss)

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