By: Joe Walsh
“It doesn’t simulate the feeling of drowning. You are being drowned. Slowly.”
The words of Christopher Hitchens, writer for Vanity Fair magazine. In August 2008, Hitchens subjected himself to the “aggressive interrogation” technique used by the U.S. and other countries to gain perspective on what it is like to be tortured for information. He lasted around 26 seconds before breaking. In a realistic scenario, the subject would then provide interrogators with the information they desire.
“But what if you didn’t have anything? What if they got the wrong guy? Then you would really be in danger of losing your mind.” Hitchens most haunting words bring about debate on the effectiveness of the torture technique.
New reports have surfaced saying that waterboarding is not the most effective means of gathering intelligence. The subject has generated a variety of opinions at Marist College.
“Waterboarding is torture, period,” junior Sal Furino said. “I am against torture of all forms. No matter what information might or might not be extracted from the subject. Anyone in the chain-of-command, not just the performers of the torture, should be held responsible.”
Other people feel that the subject isn’t so absolute.
“It’s definitely a subject that no one wants to dwell on,” junior Chris LaFleche said. “But it is a dark reality of the way countries get intelligence. I wouldn’t say I condone torture, but there are times when I do think it is necessary for the safety of lots of innocent people.”
When the CIA began to torture suspected terrorist Abu Zubaida, they used the
controversial technique. Though he apparently gave a large amount of information to interrogators, all the leads proved faulty and led the CIA nowhere. It should also be noted that all of the useful information he provided was given before he was waterboarded.
Hitchens described the process as so intense that one would do whatever it takes to end it. Even if that means providing false leads since you may not be a major player in a terrorist ring.
“They told me that when I activated the ‘dead man’s handle [way to stop the torture],’ which is a simple process: you simply release something [metal bars clenched in the hands]. You let it go,” Hitchens said. “I didn’t do that. Even though my hands were bound, as sort of as near as you could, I threw the thing out of my hand. I mean I really wanted it to stop.”
Waterboarding is a straightforward technique that delivers maximum effect. A person is bound to a board with their head positioned lower than their chest. The blindfolded subject then has water poured in their nose and mouth with a towel in between acting as gag and disorienting mechanism. It is exactly like drowning but without being underwater.
“That is a scary thing,” junior Matt Laube said. “It’s absolutely terrifying to think of being partially drowned to get information from someone. I don’t know how long I could last, but I would do whatever they wanted me to after. It just seems so traumatic; it’s effective and awful.”
The United States is not the only country that has been criticized lately for the use of waterboarding. In early March, the U.N. released a report that implicated other countries, among them the U.K., for sending people to Guantanamo Bay and “safe houses” in the Middle East with the intention of torturing the enemy.
Former President George W. Bush and his administration were in favor of torturing prisoners. In 2005, after Alberto Gonzalez was made attorney general, he helped to quietly pass an opinion. One that went opposite of the “abhorrent” review the Justice Department gave earlier. It condoned the harshest of tortures for gaining information.
Extreme and secret practices such as these even led Deputy Attorney General James Comey to leave his job. He felt that the process was overstepping many boundaries.
This topic will be a great test for the Obama administration. Seeing where they stand on the subject will likely make an impact on the way the U.S. is viewed abroad as a symbol of the change promised by the president.
People like Hitchens will never forget the time spent on the board. He has experienced nightmares from time to time since the “demonstration.”
“Unable to determine whether I was breathing in or out, and flooded more with sheer panic than with mere water,” Hitchens said. “I triggered the pre-arranged signal and felt the unbelievable relief of being pulled upright and having the soaking and stifling layers pulled off me.”