Waterboarding is Torture

Malcolm Nance provides a detailed, passionate argument as to why “Waterboarding is Torture… Period”

In fact, waterboarding is just the type of torture then Lt. Commander John McCain had to endure at the hands of the North Vietnamese. As a former Master Instructor and Chief of Training at the US Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School (SERE) in San Diego, California I know the waterboard personally and intimately. SERE staff were required undergo the waterboard at its fullest. I was no exception. I have personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people. It has been reported that both the Army and Navy SERE school’s interrogation manuals were used to form the interrogation techniques used by the US army and the CIA for its terror suspects. What was not mentioned in most articles was that 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.

[…]

Before arriving for my assignment at SERE, I traveled to Cambodia to visit the torture camps of the Khmer Rouge. The country had just opened for tourism and the effect of the genocide was still heavy in the air. I wanted to know how real torturers and terror camp guards would behave and learn how to resist them from survivors of such horrors. I had previously visited the Nazi death camps Dachau and Bergen-Belsen. I had met and interviewed survivors of Buchenwald, Auschwitz and Magdeburg when I visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. However, it was in the S-21 death camp known as Tuol Sleng, in downtown Phnom Penh, where I found a perfectly intact inclined waterboard. Next to it was the painting on how it was used. It was cruder than ours mainly because they used metal shackles to strap the victim down, and a tin flower pot sprinkler to regulate the water flow rate, but it was the same device I would be subjected to a few weeks later.

Read Nance’s bio before ranting about his namby pamby, ivory tower view of terrorism, please.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, Terrorism, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. nightjar says:

    The sensation of drowning has to be at the top of the list for terrorizing experiences by humans or any living animal. Consequently, if waterboarding does not shock the conscience, few techniques would, short of organ failure or death.

  2. DC Loser says:

    I’ll beat the others to the punch by stating the obvious. Mr. Nance is obviously an Islamofascist sympathizer who hates America.

  3. mannning says:

    This article establishes one point clearly: water boarding is torture. It also establishes that those subjected to it talk–a lot. They tell the truth, and they tell falsehoods. They tell all they know to stop the torture! They are threatened with repeated water boarding.

    It would be up to the interrogators to sort out the truth from the falsehoods in successive sessions. The interrogators may or may not succeed. The victim may or may not live.

    Those who have been water boarded have talked.

    This rings true.

  4. Triumph says:

    If we can’t waterboard people at will, then the terrorists would have won. Torturing people before they have been tried by a court of law is the only we way we can guarantee freedom for everyone.

  5. Bob says:

    At least one premise on not using torture has been proven false. The one about not giving our enemies the license to torture our troops. Our troops have been subjected to much more inhuman torture and death (with one exception) in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Nor did our compliance with Geneva Conventions assist our troops when fighting Japanese or Viet Namese. In other words, only time it has been shown to work was when we fought against European countries. So why this morale hand-wringing on something that our enemies do no abide by? If the other beligerent does not abide by geneva does that not nullify our need to play by the rules?

  6. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    I would much rather be waterboarded, and think I was going to die than have my fingers broken one at a time, fingernails torn out, have electodes attached to sensitive parts of my body and shocked, have holes drilled into me. Torture is supposed to hurt. Scaring someone is not torture. If a Democrat were President, this would not be an issue. Torture is forcing a young boy who reached freedom to return to Cuba. That is torture. Don’t think so? Go live there.

  7. Boyd says:

    Before you put too much stock in Malcolm’s bio, you need to be aware that those of us who have known Malcolm for years, and served with him in the US Navy, would dispute much of what he writes about himself.

    Malcolm’s one of those guys who can discredit the truth by agreeing with it. His agreement makes the argument suspect.

  8. James Joyner says:

    Before you put too much stock in Malcolm’s bio, you need to be aware that those of us who have known Malcolm for years, and served with him in the US Navy, would dispute much of what he writes about himself.

    I’ve never met Nance am an prepared to be corrected on his bio. But let’s not call the man a liar without some argument or evidence to that end.

    Malcolm’s one of those guys who can discredit the truth by agreeing with it. His agreement makes the argument suspect.

    So, we don’t use waterboarding in SERE school? Totalitarian regimes didn’t/don’t use it as an interrogation technique? It doesn’t simulate drowning? What facts are changed by a clearer understanding of Nance’s bio?

  9. Anderson says:

    The naked enthusiasm for defending torture continues to impress me, in a very negative way.

    Leaving aside the not-implausible explanation that torture supporters are simply evil people, the best explanation I can think of is that the will to torture is mistaken for toughness, the readiness to do whatever it takes (so much for those whiny bleeding-heart liberals).

    Obviously, being “tough” is not always the best response to a situation, and it’s amply demonstrated that humane interrogation methods are quite effective when used by trained professionals. Yet the knee-jerk support for torture, and opposition to its critics, continues.

    Partly too I think it must be the fear of the enemy. The Islamist terrorist is not like the Nazis in our eyes so much as the WW2-era Japanese were to Americans at the time — strangers from a very different culture with strikingly different values and loyalties from what we took for granted.

    We nonetheless managed to do quite well interrogating “gung-ho” Japanese without torturing them, another fact cheerfully explained away by torture fans.

    Any other thoughts, folks?

  10. Wayne says:

    What proof did Nance give that Waterboarding is Torture? His personal opinion and there are other countries that do it. That doesn’t prove much. Other countries use soft techniques as well. Does that mean soft techniques are torture also.

    Also if Waterboarding is Torture and it happens at SERE, does that mean we are torturing our own troops? Waterbaording is a mind game. Most interrogations involve mind games. It may be considered a mental torture but that is not the same as Physical torture, which is what is usually meant by the term torture.

    Only in today’s nanny society where many consider mental stress as the equal to physical harm do we get such nonsense. Shot, there was a school in California that didn’t want to correct students for wrong answer because it cause mental anxiety.

  11. Wayne says:

    James

    I believe Boyde point was that you could find someone in almost any group to say about anything. If you going to give credence to what Nance say because of his Bio then shouldn’t you give more credence to the Majority opinion of those with a similar bio.

    Of course most people will only give credence to those who they agree with. That is the problem with the press. They search out those who agree with them instead of getting both sides opinion.

  12. Eneils Bailey says:

    I would agree that water-boarding is torture if you will admit that:

    Blowing up kids in pizza parlors is an act of a heroic warrior.

    Stoning women to death a woman for for venturing into public places without the accompaninent of a family member justifies the act of protecting family honor.

    Capturing, then decapitating the head, burning the bodies, and putting up a video of the action on the internet shows your bravery and willingness to justify the cause.

    Charging into a marketplace, filled with your fellow countrymen, and then blowing up yourself along with innocent humans beings is a tribute to Allah.

    Thinking that some twelveth century juvenile will come crawling out of a well will give a country of tens of millions of people guidance for the future.

    The tenants of Christianity, as witnessed by fools such as Rosie McDonnel equate to the barbaric actions of brave Islamnofastic warriors.

    And after all this, if you think that we should afford these people any of the protections that we offer other civilized nations, go stand , hand in hand around the nuclear centrifuges of Iran. We could rid ourselves of two problems with one air strike………

  13. ken says:

    Countries that engage in torture like waterboarding usually don’t stop until they are crushed by armies from without. Is that where we are heading? Do the conservatives really want to require a crushing military defeat and occupation before we stop torturing people?

  14. Ugh says:

    Anderson – I wonder about that too. The torture proponents seem impervious to just about anything. I think the idea that they’re being “tough” has something to do with it. Also, the sense that by advocating decision to torture means they feel like they’ve been entrusted with a certain level of responsibility, and they like that feeling.

    Also, you have people like Eneils Bailey, who seem to assume that anyone we capture in the war on terror is a card carrying al Qaeda member who just got done eating baby Jesus (or maybe teen-age Jesus), because our armed forces, CIA and Department of Homeland Security never make mistakes.

    More likely they’re just a bunch of fncking cowards.

  15. Boyd says:

    I need to marshal my resources, because this demands a more considered response than I can mount immediately, partly because I’ll need to consult some corporate memory to get the details exactly right.

  16. Wayne says:

    Ugh Anderson

    You don’t like what you hear so you personally attack your opponents or maybe you are trying to use reverse psychology. To be real man you must cry and wear pink shirts or else you are insecure with your manhood. News flash, sometimes real man don’t cry and wear pink shirts simply because they don’t want to.

    Almost all on the so call torture side don’t call for torture as a general policy but as an exception.

    The anti torture side doesn’t ever believe that torture should be used. Also anything they considered torture is torture and anyone who doesn’t agree with them is evil and that person thinks all torture should be done to anyone at anytime.

    The anti torture side throw insults at their opponents instead of addressing the issue.

  17. Hal says:

    The anti torture side throw insults at their opponents instead of addressing the issue.

    And that, James, is your side’s problem in a nutshell. You can take a wishy washy stance on torture if you like, you can strongly “speak out” against things. But basically, by not making this a black and white issue you have the previous comments as the broad stream flowing through your political philosophy’s population.

    Feels like freedom, don’t it?

  18. anjin-san says:

    The more I people arguing in favor of torture, the more I think that Bin Laden actually suceeded in destroying America on 9-11.

    The country I grew up in, where being an American actually meant something seems to be gone.

    “You don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time.”

    Vince Lombardi

  19. Bob says:

    Anderson,

    “We nonetheless managed to do quite well interrogating “gung-ho” Japanese without torturing them, another fact cheerfully explained away by torture fans.”

    Just what evidence would you provide that showed us successful in extracting intelligence from Japanese soldiers, airmen, or sailors in WWII? The fact is number of Japanese uniform personnel who surrendered was incredibly tiny. Nor have I read of any great intel coups garnered from captured Japanese. Most of our intel was photo or signal intercepts. The simple fact was there was very few Japanese to interrogate and those captured were foot soldiers or pilots.

    I wouldn’t make the presumption that many are aurguing for use of torture by the means AQ utilizes. But I think the aurgument that any torture is unjustified is simply too simplistic. Interrogation techniques are a continuim and where you decide torture begins and where I see it starts differs. I don’t read anyone crying for public beheadings of AQ operatives. Waterboarding is not same as say castration, rape, the gouging of eyes, intentional burning, etc.

    I just find the premise that waterboarding is equivelent to AQ’s methods naive and simplistic. Answer me this: Is sleep deprevation torture – if it is then US military has been subjecting its own troops to for decades druing combat and in peacetime training.

  20. M1EK says:

    Wayne and Bob, you’re really bad people, and today you make me ashamed to be an American.

  21. Wayne says:

    M1EK

    I have a feeling you have always been ashamed of being an American. Go stick your head back into the sand and believe the lies of the left.

    You remind me of one whom say they would never steal even if your or your family lives depended on it. However after only two days without food you start stealing like a lifelong thief while the rest of us who admitted that under certain situations we would steal still refuse to steal.

  22. Steve says:

    Wayne and Bob, you’re really bad people, and today you make me ashamed to be an American.

    M1EK,
    I’m curious why you are ashamed to be an American? Free speech is a basic tenet of American freedom. The discussion of differing ideas in public is healthy and necessary to sustaining our freedoms. By exposing your ideas and convincing the majority to agree with you is democracy in action.

    Whining about opposing views and calling them names is childish and if backed by power can lead to tyranny.

    Tell us why Bob and Wayne are wrong.

  23. Ugh says:

    Wayne/Bob/Steve/mannning –

    What is the acceptable ratio of innocent people water-boarded to terrorists water-boarded? Can we water-board 10 innocent people for every actual terrorist?

    In the ticking time bomb scenario, explain to me why water-boarding is fine but gouging-out eyes is not?

  24. mockmook says:

    “In the ticking time bomb scenario, explain to me why water-boarding is fine but gouging-out eyes is not?”

    Waterboarding will get the result without resorting to eye-gouging.

    It gives me pause that a significant percentage of the public sees waterboarding as torture.

    Shouldn’t if give you pause that a significant percentage of the public doesn’t see waterboarding as torture?

    Generally, those who accept waterboarding don’t accept pulling out fingernails, maiming, etc. So, we aren’t without a moral compass.

    BTW, please explain how dropping a bomb on enemy “troops” is OK, but waterboarding them isn’t.

  25. Hal says:

    Man, these comments just keep getting better and better.

    Waterboarding will get the result without resorting to eye-gouging.

    Yes, I’m sure you know this with mathematical precision. People who are willing to blow themselves up in a suicide bombing aren’t likely to respond to such things.

    Hey, here’s one for ya. Ticking time bomb, nuke about to go off in the middle of <insert your favorite, red state, highly populated, all American torture loving city here> Prisoner does not respond to water boarding. Has no finger nails left, all fingers broken. Already sliced up his ‘nads.

    We do have his beloved children, though. Guess you’re going to volunteer to rape/torture/slowly kill/whatever these kids in order break the dude to save everyone in the city.

    Yep, James. Quite the wonderful constituency y’all on the right have. Going to write up real well in the history books.

  26. Boyd says:

    In case anyone is still reading the comments, here are a few points regarding Malcolm:

    * He was a Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) in the Navy. We operated radios, mostly on ships, submarines and airplanes. Our job was mostly tedium, so some of us like to turn it into an adrenaline-pumping action adventure in our sea stories.

    * None my friends and colleagues who were in Beirut on October 23, 1983, can remember Malcolm’s presence in the aftermath of the Marine barracks attack. If he was there, he maintained what was a startlingly low profile for Malcolm.

    * Malcolm was an instructor at the Navy Technical Training Center Detachment at Goodfellow AFB in San Angelo, TX, which is where he earned his Master Training Specialist designation. It had nothing to do with his assignment at SERE School.

    * Malcolm was assigned to SERE School as an instructor to get him out of the way of the mainstream of the Navy’s Cryptologic community, due to some run-ins he’d had with influential people. CTs only get assigned duties outside of the community when they’ve lost their clearance or really pissed someone off. CTs have Top Secret SCI clearances; they don’t get sent to mainstream Navy schools as instructors (thereby wasting their clearances) unless there’s a problem somewhere. It certainly wasn’t because Malcolm was some whiz-bang SEAL counter-terrorism expert.

    * I went through SERE school at least a decade before Malcolm was a SERE instructor, but during my class, there wasn’t anything approaching the severity of his description of waterboarding. Yes, there were many very unpleasant experiences there, but nothing that came anywhere close to being properly called “torture.”

    * Malcolm bases some of his claims on “classified” information. The last time I checked, revealing classified information is against the law (unless you’re a politician, of course). Regardless of the legalities, I have a hard time understanding how a person of honor and integrity can reveal information that he has sworn to keep secret.

    Malcolm has always been a superior writer. Likewise, he’s had an uncanny ability to step into the proverbial pile of shit and come out smelling like a rose. Those of us who know him best don’t trust anything he says or writes. Take his books and articles with a pillar of salt.

  27. Anderson says:

    Just what evidence would you provide that showed us successful in extracting intelligence from Japanese soldiers, airmen, or sailors in WWII?

    This article from the Atlantic is pretty well known around the internets on this subject.

    Moran was writing in 1943, and he was describing his own, already legendary methods of interrogating Japanese prisoners of war. More than a half century later his report remains something of a cult classic for military interrogators. The Marine Corps Interrogator Translator Teams Association (MCITTA), a group of active-duty and retired Marine intelligence personnel, calls Moran’s report one of the “timeless documents” in the field and says it has long been “a standard read” for insiders.

    * * *

    Part of why Sherwood Moran became such a legendary figure among military interrogators was his cool disregard for what he termed the standard “hard-boiled” military attitude. The brutality of the fighting in the Pacific and the suicidal fanaticism of the Japanese had created a general assumption that only the sternest measures would get Japanese prisoners to divulge anything. Moran countered that in his and others’ experience, strong-arm tactics simply did not work. Stripping a prisoner of his dignity, treating him as a still-dangerous threat, forcing him to stand at attention and flanking him with guards throughout his interrogation—in other words, emphasizing that “we are his to-be-respected and august enemies and conquerors”—invariably backfired. It made the prisoner “so conscious of his present position and that he was a captured soldier vs. enemy intelligence” that it “played right into [the] hands” of those who were determined not to give away anything of military importance.

    In his report (written in the form of a letter of advice to interpreters newly assigned to interrogation duty) Moran stressed that he would usually begin an interrogation by taking almost the opposite tack.

    I often tell a prisoner right at the start what my attitude is! I consider a prisoner (i.e. a man who has been captured and disarmed and in a perfectly safe place) as out of the war, out of the picture, and thus, in a way, not an enemy … Notice that … I used the word “safe.” That is the point: get the prisoner to a safe place, where even he knows … that it is all over. Then forget, as it were, the “enemy” stuff, and the “prisoner” stuff. I tell them to forget it, telling them I am talking as a human being to a human being.

    Every soldier, Moran observed, has a “story” he desperately wants to tell. The interrogator’s job is to provide the atmosphere that allows the prisoner to tell it.

    The whole article is required reading for anyone genuinely interested in the subject, and not precommitted to “torture, torture, rah rah rah!”

  28. Anderson says:

    Btw, JJ quoted and linked the same article a few days back … I’d missed or forgotten that, but found it in searching to see if he linked the article when it came out.

    Here’s one more bit, for you ticking-bomb fans:

    Moran’s whole approach … was built on the assumption that few if any prisoners are likely to possess decisive information about imminent plans. (And as one former Marine interrogator says, even if a prisoner does have information of the “ticking bomb” variety – where the nuke is going to go off an hour from now, in the classic if overworked example – under duress or torture he is most likely to try to run out the clock by making something up rather than reveal the truth.)

    The example contradicts itself, in other words. The terrorist can say “the bomb’s at so-and-so,” knowing it will take time to check this out, & by the time the infidels learn otherwise … BOOM!

  29. Wayne says:

    Boyde

    Thanks for the good information.

    Anderson and others.

    First you don’t torture just anyone. So the chance of torturing some innocent person is very slim. It is probably slimmer then our courts convicting an innocent person for murder.

    Also into the TTB scenario the probability of someone resisting harsh interrogation techniques including torture before you use a terrorist child, who is highly unlikely to be there, is next to none.

    A much more likely TTB scenario is that a terrorist house is taken down. The take down agency find terrorist destroying material of a plot. The material that hasn’t been destroyed gives enough information to know that a massive attack is about to take place. There is a good chance that the captives know much of the information that they destroyed. Do you torture them?

    Would I torture a suspected but not known terrorist just pulled off the street? No.

    As I said before, there are scenarios where you torture but many in which you don’t. Giving more scenarios where you wouldn’t torture doesn’t show that you should never torture.

    All of which except Boyde comments is off the original subject of if water-boarding is torture.

  30. Eneils Bailey says:

    UGH,
    “Also, you have people like Eneils Bailey, who seem to assume that anyone we capture in the war on terror is a card carrying al Qaeda member who just got done eating baby Jesus (or maybe teen-age Jesus), because our armed forces, CIA and Department of Homeland Security never make mistakes.”

    When people can’t muster up the guts or rely on their intelligence to respond to what they believe, they usually resort to your kind of antics.
    My view on religion would probably surprise you. Not all people who believe that terrorists are barbarians use Jesus as a point of reference. Also, trying to paint the picture that many of the people picked up and interrogated are just standing on the corner, waiting on the bus, is absurd. Intelligence resources usually don’t waste their time on gathering up punks who know little and therefore can yield little.

  31. Grewgills says:

    Intelligence resources usually don’t waste their time on gathering up punks who know little and therefore can yield little.

    When you sweep areas bringing in all the neighbors of suspected terrorists you end up “gathering up punks who know little and therefore can yield little.”
    When you offer rewards to warlords to bring in terrorists and when they have little or no accountability you end up paying others to “gather(ing) up punks who know little and therefore can yield little.”

  32. Eneils Bailey says:

    Gathering up and questioning people in sweeps of disputed territory is not torture.
    It does not take long to establish who is credible and can offer reliable sources of information.

  33. Billy says:

    It does not take long to establish who is credible and can offer reliable sources of information.

    Like about, wait – how long have we been holding prisoners in Guantanamo now, five years?

    You write the dumbest comments I’ve seen in six months, at least – and this on a forum where Bithead sometimes posts.

  34. Eneils Bailey says:

    I would not call it the dumbest post I have seen here. I have done better than this in the last several months.
    It is just that I see people who are out to justify the actions of our enemies based on their hatred of their internal political opposition.

    Oh, by the way, prisoners picked up on the battle field are usually held until the cessation of hostilities.

    I have an idea, lets set up halfway houses for the Gitmo prisoners, you got a spare bedroom?

  35. mannning says:

    There he goes again! Who ever said that water boarding was fine, but gouging eyes out was not?

    Torture is torture. Some methods are more brutal than others. Some methods are more effective than others in several ways, such as not seriously impairing the prisoner’s health, while having him experience a living death, and talking to avoid WB a second or third time.

    Generally, I think extreme discretion and rarity in applying torture is called for. There must be the strong presumption that very worthwhile information is to be had, no other way is feasible at the moment, and the identified status of the person is indicative, surrounding circumstances are damning, and other factors, such as corollary intelligence, point to this person.

    Wholesale or too frequent application of torture by any unit without reason would lead me to believe we were dealing with sadists in our ranks that must be stopped cold.

  36. Eneils Bailey says:

    “Torture is torture. Some methods are more brutal than others.”

    Agreed.

    How do you think the families and relatives of those who worked at The World Trade Center felt when they saw what could have been their loved ones leap over eighty floors to their deaths because they were burning to death and suffocating with no other place to go. Can we equate that torture with intimidating prisoners with dogs, undergoing the cultural disdain of a female superior, and making them parade around in their underwear? I got my answer, you have yours.

    Was that torture for the people that leaped to their certain instant death instead of undergoing a slow, painful, torturous death of breathing super heated air and smelling their flesh burning.

    Some of you people need to ask yourself the question, “Do I dislike George Bush more than I can find fault with Islamnist Facist’s who want to murder me, my wife, and my children?” Don’t feed to me the crap that our intelligence corp and soldiers are out on a wholesale round-up of foreign citizens just to derive pleasure from torturing them.

    How does all this play into torturing barbarians? I don’t know, I don’t care, and I don’t want my children blown up in a pizza palor or out at their workplace.