Does Waterboarding Work?

We might become reluctant supporters of “extreme interrogation techniques” if we could really persuade ourselves that half an hour of waterboarding could really save a hundred lives — or indeed a single life. In reality, no such calculus is possible

It is not yet clear whether George W Bush is planning to cross the Atlantic to flog us his memoirs, but if I were his PR people I would urge caution. As book tours go, this one would be an absolute corker. It is not just that every European capital would be brought to a standstill, as book-signings turned into anti-war riots. The real trouble — from the Bush point of view — is that he might never see Texas again.

One moment he might be holding forth to a great perspiring tent at Hay-on-Wye. The next moment, click, some embarrassed member of the Welsh constabulary could walk on stage, place some handcuffs on the former leader of the Free World, and take him away to be charged. Of course, we are told this scenario is unlikely. Dubya is the former leader of a friendly power, with whom this country is determined to have good relations. But that is what torture-authorising Augusto Pinochet thought. And unlike Pinochet, Mr Bush is making no bones about what he has done.

Unless the 43rd president of the United States has been grievously misrepresented, he has admitted to authorising and sponsoring the use of torture. Asked whether he approved of “waterboarding” in three specific cases, he told his interviewer that “damn right” he did, and that this practice had saved lives in America and Britain. It is hard to overstate the enormity of this admission.

“Waterboarding” is a disgusting practice by which the victim is deliberately made to think that he is drowning. It is not some cunning new psych-ops technique conceived by the CIA. It has been used in the dungeons of dictators for centuries. It is not compatible either with the US constitution or the UN convention against torture. It is deemed to be torture in this country, and above all there is no evidence whatever that it has ever succeeded in doing what Mr Bush claimed. It does not work.

It does not produce much valuable information — and therefore it does not save lives. Of course we are all tempted, from time to time, by the utilitarian argument. We might become reluctant supporters of “extreme interrogation techniques” if we could really persuade ourselves that half an hour of waterboarding could really save a hundred lives — or indeed a single life. In reality, no such calculus is possible. When people are tortured, they will generally say anything to bring the agony to an end — which is why any such evidence is inadmissible in court.

In the case of the three men waterboarded on Bush’s orders, British ministers are not aware of any valuable information they gave about plots against Heathrow, Canary Wharf or anywhere else. All the policy has achieved is to degrade America in the eyes of the world, and to allow America’s enemies to utter great whoops of vindication. It is not good enough for Dubya now to claim that what he did was OK, because “the lawyers said it was legal”. The lawyers in question were Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee and his deputy, John Yoo, and after a good deal of political cattle-prodding from Rumsfeld et al, they produced a totally barmy attempt to redefine torture so as to allow waterboarding.

Pain was only torture, they determined, when it was “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily functions, or even death”. Go ahead and browse around here to find legal advice for injuries and more. If that is right, it would seem that most of the techniques of the Spanish Inquisition would be acceptable to the American government. You could beat the soles of someone’s feet; you could pour molten candle wax on their extremities; you could even pull their finger nails out without infringing those conditions.

How is some tired and frightened American officer supposed to make head or tail of this sophistry, late at night in some bleak Iraqi jail? How is he supposed to calibrate the pain that comes from an organ failure or death? It is no wonder, with orders like that coming from the top, that the troopers misbehaved so tragically in Abu Ghraib. They failed to see any moral difference between waterboarding their suspects and putting hoods over their heads. They failed to see any moral difference between waterboarding them and terrifying them with alsatian dogs or attaching electrodes to their genitals. They failed to see any moral difference, that is, because there isn’t any moral difference.

That is the real disaster of the waterboarding policy — that we are left with the impression that the entire US military are skidding their heels on the slippery slope towards barbarism. And that is emphatically not the case. Yesterday at the Cenotaph we remembered the sacrifice of men and women not just in two world wars, but also in Iraq and Afghanistan. The purpose of these conflicts is not so much to defeat “the enemy”, but to defend things we believe to be inalienable goods — freedom, democracy and, above all, the rule of law.

I believe that, of all nations, America still best upholds and guarantees those things. It would be ludicrous to suggest that the waterboarding disaster, or the evils of Abu Ghraib, have set up some kind of moral equivalence between America and – say – the murderous Taliban regime, let alone Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. If you want to appreciate the difference, remember that the perpetrators of Abu Ghraib were court-martialled, and we know about US interrogation techniques because of rules on freedom of information. But if your end is the spread of freedom and the rule of law, you cannot hope to achieve that end by means that are patently vile and illegal.

How could America complain to the Burmese generals about the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, when a president authorised torture? How can we talk about human rights in Beijing, when our number one ally and friend seems to be defending this kind of behaviour? I can’t think of any other American president, in my lifetime, who would have spoken in this way. Mr Bush should have remembered the words of the great Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who said in 1863 that “military necessity does not admit of cruelty”. Damn right.

30 thoughts on “Does Waterboarding Work?”

  1. Waterboarding is just the same as any other torture.
    Being made to believe that you are drowning to the point that the suspect can actually die through stress is digusting.

    The only justification that they have for waterboarding is the fact that they are not intending to kill the suspect whilst performing the procedure.

    Waterboarding is definetly wrong. To ask the question does waterboarding work would be the same as asking does electricution work. Of course it will work in some cases, of course some people will give in when put under tremendous amounts of pain and stress.However, waterboarding is not the revolutionary, humane form of torture that some people make it out to be.

  2. Does George W Bush’s endorsement of waterboarding mean that he would have no objections to an enemy of the USA waterboarding suspected US combatants? Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself, George.

    Maybe it would be a good idea if we stopped using this word, ‘waterboarding’ anyway, and just said ‘torture’.

  3. It’s easier said than done. ‘Attaching electrodes to their genitals’ might excite some terrorists with this disgusting fetish. This mean we would un-knowingly be giving them terrorists this pleasure for free. See?

    ‘You could pour molten wax on their extremities’ ( Boris meant their genitals ) again, this technique might excite some terrorists with this revolting fetish rather than scare them into confessing. Remember that flopped 1993 film BODY OF EVIDENCE where Madonna pours molten wax onto a naked and excited Willem Dafoe who has this fetish, folks?

    The most humane way, which will not breach the Geneva Human Rights Treaty, is: if the terrorist is straight, put him/ her in a locked room with a gay man or a lesbian. If the terrorist is gay, put him in a locked room with a real woman. If the terrorist is a lesbian, put her in a locked room with a real man.

    To me, water-boarding is very crude indeed.

  4. @Ed Gibb

    If one us citezen was waterboarded by the taliban (or similar) and it was recorded on video and aired to the public, there would be no argument for the proceedure.

    I think you would find that all those who say it is ok and it was working would very quickly change their minds.

  5. Hang on, folks- I did not explain fully. What I meant was:

    If the terrorist is a straight man, lock him in a room with a gay interrogator. If the terrorist is a straight woman, lock her in a room with a lesbian interrogator.

    If the terrorist is a gay man, lock him in a room with a straight female interrogator. If the terrorist is straight lady, lock her in a room with a lesbian interrogator.

    Then, let one chase the other around the locked room, Benny Hill style, until the other one runs out of puff and confesses. Now, no harm is there, is there?

    They could even capture the farce on CCTV and sell the tapes to ITV, like those Police Stop! series.

  6. Hang on, folks- I muddled up there. What I meant was: if the terrorist is a lesbian, lock her in a room with a straight man. Then let one chase the other, Benny Hill style, until the other runs out of puff and confesses.

  7. @Edna

    Ummmm… Edna…. Ummm…. i think you have missed out the element of attraction.

    We are not all attracted to one another.

    Why would the interigator be attracted to a terrorist exactly?

    And if you think of it if – we are dealing with a religious terrorist such as a muslim terrorist, the culprit may already be homosexual but due to the strict islam laws disallowing it, would not make it known.

    Plus what would be the case for bisexual culprits?


  8. Edna, once the enemy find out that you are in charge of interrogation, they’ll crack. Every one, every time, promise. Terror, fear, confusion, imagination, you’ve mastered it….we won’t have to do a thing. We’ll just say,

    “Edna is coming….”

  9. Hang on, folks! I was only joking; as this subject is usually un-pleasant to talk about. However, if you go out there and ask everyone, most ( except the dictators & the communist top dogs & their families & their croonies ) will tell you that they prefer to live in a free country with basic human rights.

    For that reason and as those terrorists commited crimes against our free world, they deserve to be interrogated in some ways for their confession.

    The Amnesty International Group and those who are concerned about methods of interrogation and fair trails should look more at the victims who are jailed and tortured in those dictatorship countries and communist countries. For their so-called crimes are having different political views to their government’s.

    And that we shouldn’t want to know everything and have a say in everything our government does to protect our freedom and our free world.

    Still don’t understand? yes? Well, let’s just put it this way: If you could see the kitchen of a restaurant or a local Take-Away shop where your food was prepared, you wouldn’t want to eat the food they serve you.

    By the way, folks, I hear that Al-Qeada has put Carla Bruni on their hit list because France just said it supported the Afghan war. See? What kind of race is that that can’t take criticism?

  10. Hang on, folks- I ain’t finished yet. As for Boris to predict Mr Bush would need police protection if he ever came to London- well, I’m not surprise as we all know the police in this country are well know for taking side with the yobs, the hooligans and the criminals, rather than protecting decent folks.

    If you come out of your house holding a stick as some yobs are vandalising your car, the police will arrest you, not the yobs, for your threatening behaviour. And look at the ‘students’ riot at Millbank Tower in London two days ago. And now, even the terrorists in British jails must be fed Hala meat. Oh I say.

  11. Boris is making great influence, as I think his support was important to bring the attention to the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, and consequently her freedom!!

  12. I could never see the distinction between bombing or sniping people and torturing them. Once you are at war with an enemy these distinctions become semantic arguments only.

    Those who bombed Dresden did not worry about how many innocent refugees they were incinerating but how many Russian soldiers lives they might save. Rightly in my view.

    Torture is an inevitable consequence of war.

  13. I understand that Teresa May has decided to get tough with rioting students and has authorised the use of mortarboarding.

  14. Back in 1605, when Guido Fawkes was subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques in the Tower of London, torture could only be authorised by the King in person and then only when there was a direct threat to the safety of the realm. We seem to have slipped back a bit since then.

  15. EARLY LEARNING CENTRE shops in the UK removed a little pink piggy from farmyard animals toy sets to avoid offending Muslims and Jews. Oh I say!

    Islamic fanatics burnt silk poppies and Union Jack flags in London on Armistice Day while British bobbies stood watch. Oh I say!

    Last week’s news: U-TURN ON ‘SEXIST’ GINGERBREAD MEN:

    “Gingerbread men will be back on the menu at 400 schools after they were banned – for being sexist. Dinnerladies in Lancashire had been told to refer to them as ‘persons’ instead. But now school meals chiefs have admitted they were wrong.”

    Oh I say! There’s a draught in here! No ‘man’, no ‘woman’. Just ‘person’. Soon they will ban Mr. and Mrs. on envelopes. And this country will be full of eunuchs.

  16. Drowning in interrigation
    Yet under us legislation
    This in humane insane creation
    That causes uproar and moral devestation

    Is perfectly fine
    In fact it’s quite kind
    Im sure in that case bush wouldnt mind

    Being waterboarded coz of course its not wrong
    If it was done to him…
    He’d soon change his song

    Hed be crying,screaming, screeching and yelling
    His wrongs and lies he would be telling

    Try it yourself if you think its fair
    If it all goes wrong just be aware….

    Can you really depend on obama care?

  17. ( Rap )

    Ka-boom Ka-boom

    Them ter-ro-rists
    Kill in-no-cent
    Peo-ple like us
    Peo-ple like us (ad lib)

    If we let them
    Sit on our heads
    Sit on our heads ( ad lib )
    Like grand-pa-rents
    Like grand-pa-rents ( ad lib )
    We will be dead
    We will be doomed
    We will be doomed ( ad lib )

    They are e-vils
    A-gainst the West
    A-gainst free-dom
    Their dads and moms
    Shame-ful, speech-less
    Shame-ful, speech-less ( ad lib )

    If can stop it
    Their e-vil deeds
    It is worth it
    We are worth it
    We are worth it ( ad lib )

    If we let them
    Have it ea-zy
    We will be dead
    We will be doomed
    We will be doomed ( ad lib )
    Ka-boom ka-boom
    Kaboom-Kaboom-Kaboom ( ad lib )

    H. R. ‘d-good-ers
    Bark up wrong tree
    Bark up wrong tree ( ad lib )
    You’ll see, you’ll see
    Want ‘t-have their cake
    ‘N eat-it ‘s-well
    ‘N eat-it ‘s-well ( ad lib )

    Our lads ‘r-in hell
    To give us peace
    To give us peace ( ad lib )
    Who gives a sheeeet
    A-bout ‘board-ing
    A-bout ‘board-ing ( ad lib )

    Them ter-ro-rists
    If they don’t like
    They can con-fess
    Be 4 they drown
    Ea-zy! Ea-zy!
    Ea-zy! Ea-zy! ( ad lib )
    Their mates ‘r-e-vils
    It’s not grass-ing
    It’s not grass-ing ( ad lib )

    Re-pent! Re-pent!
    Repent!Repent!Repent! ( ad lib )

    We could be heroes
    We could be heroes
    We could be heroes
    Just for one day

    We could be heroes
    We could be heroes
    We could be heroes
    Just for one daaaaaaaaaaay…

  18. Did you know?

    After world war two the us tried and executed japenese who had waterboarded captured us pilots!

    Did you know?

    In the battle of britain the MI5 banned waterboarding against german agents.

    Did you know?

    The fbi even admitted that waterboarding played no role in revealing the identity of 9/11 suspects.

    Seems waterboarding isn’t all its cracked up to be.

  19. Of course it will work in some cases, of course some people will give in when put under tremendous amounts of pain and stress.However, waterboarding is not the revolutionary, humane form of torture that some people make it out to be.

    איפור כלות

  20. I suppose that those advocating state-supported torture would say that it is pragmatic, and that the end justifies the means. The ‘end’ however, seems to be the accused being
    victorious in court, as just happened in the USA, or the tortured being paid a lot of money, as has just happened here in Britain.

    I’m reminded of a phrase popular amongst some of the prettier Marxists I knew when I was a student, in another century. “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs”

    So: broken eggs, but no omelette.

  21. Boris. I think you need to put your own house in order first pal. You know what i am talking about!



    A Muslim fanatic who torched a wreath of poppies on Armistice Day on November 11, 2010 in London, was given a police guard to protect his home.

    British taxpayers paid to cover the cost of placing 2 police officers and a patrol car outside the house of Abu Rahin Aziz. The police car was sent to his council flat in Luton, Beds, last Sunday night and stayed for at least 48 hours.
    What next? Are the British bobbies going to order Halal take-aways* for these fanatics, too, as they claim they’re too scared to leave their house?

    What the F is Theresa May doing telling the cops to protect these scums?

    * Remember those 7 July 2005 London Bus Bombings linked-terrorists caught across Britain, folks?

    They were jailed for a short time, couldn’t be deported so were down-graded to mere terror-suspects, placed in council houses/ council flats with their families, under house arrest, and have been put on social benefits ever since as they are un-employable.

    For the first few months, they ordered Halal take-away meals from their local take-away shops and paid for these meals with their social benefit money (taxpayers’ money), as they claimed they were too scared to venture outside to face the music. This is the truth.

    No wonder Britain is the laughing stock of the world!

  23. @Shut That Door!:

    I agree with you fully.

    We say that no one is allowed to speak out against faiths etc. However it seems that we are only not allowed to speak out against other people.

    In this day and age we are too scared to upset people that we do not even speak out against them when they have done something wrong.

    Burning a wreath of poppies is disgusting! I think that if we can not through law deal with these people then we certainly not protect them from the people who want to bring forth theior own justice.

    We are so intent on human rights, on everyone being equal that we abandon our own rights in the process!

  24. This is why GREAT Britain is THE laughing stock of the world!

    Latest news today: A gypsy came to Britain from Romania and falsely applied for “political” asylum and got it, then started to claim social benefits and transferred all this money back to his country Romania to buy lands, built a palace, brand new BMW cars, quad bikes etc…

    Read more, read more and look at the photos and weep eh?

  25. THE STORY OF THE E.U.S.S.R so far:

    GREECE IS BURNING- the country is heavily in debt, anarchy and murder erupt on the streets of Athens!

    IRELAND HAS GONE BUST- the country is heavily in debt- first the potato, now the Euro- how Ireland has been destroyed!



    Everything will crumble, fall down and end up in tears. Just like the USSR and the Eastern Bloc before it. History is repeating itself obviously. Nature does not intend for countries to be shackled together. It’s unnatural. It’s bad enough if your country is invaded by another country. So why knowingly let your country be shackled with lots of other countries- some of whom you don’t even like?

    We can learn a lot from modern Greece rather than from Greek mythology, folks!

  26. Edna, The august Norman Tebbit has pointed out that David Cameron went to Brussels and ran down the Union flag, and ran up a white flag of surrender in its place. Nothing this allegedly Tory dominated government has done convinces me that British politicos are doing anything other than grovelling to the EU. Same as usual, for the last twenty years since Margaret Thatcher was knifed by a spineless cabinet. But we can learn from Greek mythology too: the hubris of the eurozone, has led inexorably to the nemesis of bankruptcy. I’d say ‘state’ bankruptcy, but it ain’t: and watch the Spanish and Portuguese surrender what little sovereignty they have left.
    We told them this would happen.
    Are you watching,M Sarkozy? You’re next.

  27. Oh God bless Madame Thatcher, love. She is much needed right now. I think the E.U is just a diplomatic term for enslaving, love. Oh and not just Ireland, love – we are obliged to bail-out any EU member countries what have gone bankrupt and all.

    Ireland says she needs at least £115 BILLION bail-outs. WHAT?!! does she think money grows on trees? And why does she need £8 BILLION from British taxpayers I don’t really know to be honest with you. I thought a few shiploads of King Edwards would be more than sufficient for their kind.

    Talking about Mrs T and good old Englishness, folks. Have you watched that film An Education? Oh I highly recommend it – a typical good old English film. It shows that you don’t really need all those special effects to make a good film. Peter Sarsgaard is a very good actor ( just like our Colin Firth ). His acting is effortlessly effective – very calm yet very expressive. And he oozes sexuality because he looks real – being beefy and all that.

    ” An Education ” is on special offers in HMVs right now, folks. Go and grasp one and watch it during this BIG freeze. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

  28. Oh the other day, folks, it said in the newspapers that because modern day kids are addicted to computers and the internet and don’t go out to play often, they don’t get enough sunshine and the result is more and more children have bristle bones and bow legs. And that their limbs are getting smaller and smaller comparing to their heads. AND this is what happened to… aliens ( E.Ts )!

    The scientists said this problem would get worse in the next 50 years – people would be looking more like aliens. One simple question though:

    -Will we still be paying for the BBC TV licence in the next 50 years?

    Anybody know the answer, please?

  29. Well said Boris. the Americans seem to have forgotten the set of values they (and we) are fighting for.

  30. we must not descend to the level of the medieval mad mullahs and their psychotic crazed catamites

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