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Should Waterboarding be Allowed?

Should Waterboarding be Allowed?

Waterboarding has been commonly used for torturing as well as interrogating prisoners and hostages. There are numerous arguments over usage of this torture method. Let us understand if it should be allowed.
Anuja Marathe Kanhere
Waterboarding or water torture has been commonly used for more than half a century. However, the term waterboarding was coined very recently for a New York Times article in year 2004. Recently, it has been added in the training program for American soldiers who are likely to be deputed in war prone nations. It is considered essential for all soldiers to understand this technique for their survival and resistance in case they are captured. President Barack Obama had severe criticized using waterboarding procedure in January 2009. Let us try to understand this technique in more detail so that we can judge for ourselves if it should be allowed or not.

Waterboarding Procedure
  • The procedure usually involves tightly binding arms and feet of a prisoners or subject of torture. The person is laid down on a tilted wooden board with his head on the lower side.
  • His eyes are covered with a dark piece of cloth to obstruct his visibility.
  • The person is then, either gagged with tight roll of cloth, or a thick piece of cotton cloth is placed on his face. Alternately, a thin piece of plastic is placed on the subject's face.
  • Once this is done, the torturers use a can of water with a spout to pour water over the subject's face. As the water gets absorbed in the cotton cloth or the gag, the subject starts suffocating and gasping for breath. This process usually lasts for about 40 seconds at a time with a non-stop flow of water.
  • At the end of 40 seconds, the gag or the wet cloth is temporarily removed and the subject is allowed to gasp and suck in 3 or 4 precious breaths before the cloth is placed one more time for few more of such treatments. The total process lasts for about 20 to 30 minutes with repeated torture treatments.
Physical and Psychological Effects

It is often argued by tormentors that this treatment, or rather torture, is a much lenient way of punishment considering the level of crime committed by the subjects. Usually, there is not a single noticeable physical scar on the subject's body after the torture. However, fact remains that waterboarding has some long-term physical as well as psychological effects.
  • Waterboarding is known for causing permanent brain damage due to oxygen deprivation.
  • It also tends to cause permanent damage to a person's lungs, extreme physical pain and a condition called dry drowning.
  • The subject is also likely to break his bones as he struggles to free himself during the waterboarding torture.
  • As far as psychological effects are concerned, subjects have confessed to a feeling of near death experience each time they underwent waterboarding torture.
  • There was a constant fear of drowning to death during the entire process. In fact, there have been several cases where subjects have succumbed to death during waterboarding process.
  • Other psychological effects include experiences of drowning nightmares and fear of flowing water over the subjects' face. One of the survivors of a waterboarding torture states that he experiences fear each time he takes a shower, or washes his face. It is difficult to analyze the intensity of mental trauma experienced by these subjects. This fear is difficult to control and may require help of professional counseling.
Government's Take on Waterboarding
  • Waterboarding technique has been rampantly used in the past in countries like Chile, Spain, Japan, Algeria and South Africa.
  • It was used as a torture technique on prisoners of war during the Vietnam War and World War II. The US government punished some Japanese soldiers for subjecting American prisoners to waterboarding tortures during World War II.
  • At that very time, it was one of the basic techniques of third degree punishments used by the US police force. The US government has staunchly denied using waterboarding techniques, as it does not believe in waterboarding as a form of torture.
  • Strangely, it was reported by the media in 2007 that CIA was regularly using waterboarding torture on extra-judicial prisoners and to top it all, it was permitted by the US Department of Justice. However, CIA officials point out that waterboarding technique is not a reliable method for extracting secrets from prisoners. The subjects tend to be under so much of stress and trauma that they may give false confessions just to escape from further torture.
Waterboarding may have been used many times in the past and may still be in use unofficially. Not only is it harmful to the subjects but it is also referred to as an ineffective way of torture. Some of you might feel that waterboarding torture is nothing compared to the criminal offenses and brutality of subjects of this torture, However, considering the above facts and by thinking on humanitarian grounds, one can surely say that waterboarding should be banned.