Small Wars Journal

Waterboarding is Torture... Period (Links Updated # 9)

Wed, 10/31/2007 - 3:30pm
I'd like to digress from my usual analysis of insurgent strategy and tactics to speak out on an issue of grave importance to Small Wars Journal readers. We, as a nation, are having a crisis of honor.

Last week the Attorney General nominee Judge Michael Mukasey refused to define waterboarding terror suspects as torture. On the same day MSNBC television pundit and former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough quickly spoke out in its favor. On his morning television broadcast, he asserted, without any basis in fact, that the efficacy of the waterboard a viable tool to be used on Al Qaeda suspects.

Scarborough said, "For those who don't know, waterboarding is what we did to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is the Al Qaeda number two guy that planned 9/11. And he talked ..." He then speculated that "If you ask Americans whether they think it's okay for us to waterboard in a controlled environment ... 90% of Americans will say 'yes.'" Sensing that what he was saying sounded extreme, he then claimed he did not support torture but that waterboarding was debatable as a technique: "You know, that's the debate. Is waterboarding torture? ... I don't want the United States to engage in the type of torture that [Senator] John McCain had to endure."

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.

The carnival-like he-said, she-said of the legality of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques has become a form of doublespeak worthy of Catch-22. Having been subjected to them all, I know these techniques, if in fact they are actually being used, are not dangerous when applied in training for short periods. However, when performed with even moderate intensity over an extended time on an unsuspecting prisoner -- it is torture, without doubt. Couple that with waterboarding and the entire medley not only "shock the conscience" as the statute forbids -it would terrify you. Most people can not stand to watch a high intensity kinetic interrogation. One has to overcome basic human decency to endure watching or causing the effects. The brutality would force you into a personal moral dilemma between humanity and hatred. It would leave you to question the meaning of what it is to be an American.

We live at a time where Americans, completely uninformed by an incurious media and enthralled by vengeance-based fantasy television shows like "24", are actually cheering and encouraging such torture as justifiable revenge for the September 11 attacks. Having been a rescuer in one of those incidents and personally affected by both attacks, I am bewildered at how casually we have thrown off the mantle of world-leader in justice and honor. Who we have become? Because at this juncture, after Abu Ghraieb and other undignified exposed incidents of murder and torture, we appear to have become no better than our opponents.

With regards to the waterboard, I want to set the record straight so the apologists can finally embrace the fact that they condone and encourage torture.

History's Lessons Ignored

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.

On a Mekong River trip, I met a 60-year-old man, happy to be alive and a cheerful travel companion, who survived the genocide and torture ... he spoke openly about it and gave me a valuable lesson: "If you want to survive, you must learn that 'walking through a low door means you have to be able to bow.'" He told his interrogators everything they wanted to know including the truth. They rarely stopped. In torture, he confessed to being a hermaphrodite, a CIA spy, a Buddhist Monk, a Catholic Bishop and the son of the king of Cambodia. He was actually just a school teacher whose crime was that he once spoke French. He remembered "the Barrel" version of waterboarding quite well. Head first until the water filled the lungs, then you talk.

Once at SERE and tasked to rewrite the Navy SERE program for the first time since the Vietnam War, we incorporated interrogation and torture techniques from the Middle East, Latin America and South Asia into the curriculum. In the process, I studied hundreds of classified written reports, dozens of personal memoirs of American captives from the French-Indian Wars and the American Revolution to the Argentinean 'Dirty War' and Bosnia. There were endless hours of videotaped debriefings from World War Two, Korea, Vietnam and Gulf War POWs and interrogators. I devoured the hundreds of pages of debriefs and video reports including those of then Commander John McCain, Colonel Nick Rowe, Lt. Dieter Dengler and Admiral James Stockdale, the former Senior Ranking Officer of the Hanoi Hilton. All of them had been tortured by the Vietnamese, Pathet Lao or Cambodians. The minutiae of North Vietnamese torture techniques was discussed with our staff advisor and former Hanoi Hilton POW Doug Hegdahl as well as discussions with Admiral Stockdale himself. The waterboard was clearly one of the tools dictators and totalitarian regimes preferred.

There is No Debate Except for Torture Apologists

1. Waterboarding is a torture technique. Period. There is no way to gloss over it or sugarcoat it. It has no justification outside of its limited role as a training demonstrator. Our service members have to learn that the will to survive requires them accept and understand that they may be subjected to torture, but that America is better than its enemies and it is one's duty to trust in your nation and God, endure the hardships and return home with honor.

2. Waterboarding is not a simulation. 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.

Call it "Chinese Water Torture," "the Barrel," or "the Waterfall," it is all the same. Whether the victim is allowed to comply or not is usually left up to the interrogator. Many waterboard team members, even in training, enjoy the sadistic power of making the victim suffer and often ask questions as an after thought. These people are dangerous and predictable and when left unshackled, unsupervised or undetected they bring us the murderous abuses seen at Abu Ghraieb, Baghram and Guantanamo. No doubt, to avoid human factors like fear and guilt someone has created a one-button version that probably looks like an MRI machine with high intensity waterjets.

3. If you support the use of waterboarding on enemy captives, you support the use of that torture on any future American captives. The Small Wars Council had a spirited discussion about this earlier in the year, especially when former Marine Generals Krulak and Hoar rejected all arguments for torture.

Evan Wallach wrote a brilliant history of the use of waterboarding as a war crime and the open acceptance of it by the administration in an article for Columbia Journal for Transnational Law. In it he describes how the ideological Justice Department lawyer, John Yoo validated the current dilemma we find ourselves in by asserting that the President had powers above and beyond the Constitution and the Congress:

"Congress doesn't have the power to tie the President's hands in regard to torture as an interrogation technique....It's the core of the Commander-in-Chief function. They can't prevent the President from ordering torture."

That is an astounding assertion. It reflects a basic disregard for the law of the United States, the Constitution and basic moral decency.

Another MSNBC commentator defended the administration and stated that waterboarding is "not a new phenomenon" and that it had "been pinned on President Bush ... but this has been part of interrogation for years and years and years." He is correct, but only partially. The Washington Post reported in 2006 that it was mainly America's enemies that used it as a principal interrogation method. After World War 2, Japanese waterboard team members were tried for war crimes. In Vietnam, service members were placed under investigation when a photo of a field-expedient waterboarding became publicly known.

Torture in captivity simulation training reveals there are ways an enemy can inflict punishment which will render the subject wholly helpless and which will generally overcome his willpower. The torturer will trigger within the subject a survival instinct, in this case the ability to breathe, which makes the victim instantly pliable and ready to comply. It is purely and simply a tool by which to deprive a human being of his ability to resist through physical humiliation. The very concept of an American Torturer is an anathema to our values.

I concur strongly with the opinions of professional interrogators like Colonel Stewart Herrington, and victims of torture like Senator John McCain. If you want consistent, accurate and reliable intelligence, be inquisitive, analytical, patient but most of all professional, amiable and compassionate.

Who will complain about the new world-wide embrace of torture? America has justified it legally at the highest levels of government. Even worse, the administration has selectively leaked supposed successes of the water board such as the alleged Khalid Sheik Mohammed confessions. However, in the same breath the CIA sources for the Washington Post noted that in Mohammed's case they got information but "not all of it reliable." Of course, when you waterboard you get all the magic answers you want -because remember, the subject will talk. They all talk! Anyone strapped down will say anything, absolutely anything to get the torture to stop. Torture. Does. Not. Work.

According to the President, this is not a torture, so future torturers in other countries now have an American legal basis to perform the acts. Every hostile intelligence agency and terrorist in the world will consider it a viable tool, which can be used with impunity. It has been turned into perfectly acceptable behavior for information finding.

A torture victim can be made to say anything by an evil nation that does not abide by humanity, morality, treaties or rule of law. Today we are on the verge of becoming that nation. Is it possible that September 11 hurt us so much that we have decided to gladly adopt the tools of KGB, the Khmer Rouge, the Nazi Gestapo, the North Vietnamese, the North Koreans and the Burmese Junta?

What next if the waterboarding on a critical the captive doesn't work and you have a timetable to stop the "ticking bomb" scenario? Electric shock to the genitals? Taking a pregnant woman and electrocuting the fetus inside her? Executing a captive's children in front of him? Dropping live people from an airplane over the ocean? It has all been done by governments seeking information. All claimed the same need to stop the ticking bomb. It is not a far leap from torture to murder, especially if the subject is defiant. Are we —to trade our nation's soul for tactical intelligence?

Is There a Place for the Waterboard?

Yes. The waterboard must go back to the realm of SERE training our operators, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. We must now double our efforts to prepare for its inevitable and uncontrolled use of by our future enemies.

Until recently, only a few countries considered it effective. Now American use of the waterboard as an interrogation tool has assuredly guaranteed that our service members and agents who are captured or detained by future enemies will be subject to it as part of the most routine interrogations. Forget threats, poor food, the occasional face slap and sexual assaults. This was not a dignified 'taking off the gloves'; this was descending to the level of our opposition in an equally brutish and ugly way. Waterboarding will be one our future enemy's go-to techniques because we took the gloves off to brutal interrogation. Now our enemies will take the gloves off and thank us for it.

There may never again be a chance that Americans will benefit from the shield of outrage and public opinion when our future enemy uses of torture. Brutal interrogation, flash murder and extreme humiliation of American citizens, agents and members of the armed forces may now be guaranteed because we have mindlessly, but happily, broken the seal on the Pandora's box of indignity, cruelty and hatred in the name of protecting America. To defeat Bin Laden many in this administration have openly embraced the methods of by Hitler, Pinochet, Pol Pot, Galtieri and Saddam Hussein.

Not A Fair Trade for America's Honor

I have stated publicly and repeatedly that I would personally cut Bin Laden's heart out with a plastic MRE spoon if we per chance meet on the battlefield. Yet, once captive I believe that the better angels of our nature and our nation's core values would eventually convince any terrorist that they indeed have erred in their murderous ways. Once convicted in a fair, public tribunal, they would have the rest of their lives, however short the law makes it, to come to terms with their God and their acts.

This is not enough for our President. He apparently secretly ordered the core American values of fairness and justice to be thrown away in the name of security from terrorists. He somehow determined that the honor the military, the CIA and the nation itself was an acceptable trade for the superficial knowledge of the machinations of approximately 2,000 terrorists, most of whom are being decimated in Iraq or martyring themselves in Afghanistan. It is a short sighted and politically motivated trade that is simply disgraceful. There is no honor here.

It is outrageous that American officials, including the Attorney General and a legion of minions of lower rank have not only embraced this torture but have actually justified it, redefined it to a misdemeanor, brought it down to the level of a college prank and then bragged about it. The echo chamber that is the American media now views torture as a heroic and macho.

Torture advocates hide behind the argument that an open discussion about specific American interrogation techniques will aid the enemy. Yet, convicted Al Qaeda members and innocent captives who were released to their host nations have already debriefed the world through hundreds of interviews, movies and documentaries on exactly what methods they were subjected to and how they endured. In essence, our own missteps have created a cadre of highly experienced lecturers for Al Qaeda's own virtual SERE school for terrorists.

Congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle need to stand up for American values and clearly specify that coercive interrogation using the waterboard is torture and, except for limited examples of training our service members and intelligence officers, it should be stopped completely and finally --oh, and this time without a Presidential signing statement reinterpreting the law.


Updates by SWJ Editors


Drowning in Questions - Newsweek Magazine

Voice of Experience: It's Torture -

Waterboarding Not Deemed Torture by US - Australian News

'Waterboarding' Not Deemed Torture - AFP

Expert Sheds Light on Waterboarding - Audio of NPR Interview with Malcolm Nance

Is Waterboarding Torture? - Audio of WNYC Interview with Malcolm Nance

I Know Waterboarding is Torture - Because I did it Myself - New York Daily News

Waterboarding is Torture - I Did It Myself - The Independent

Regarding Media - Los Angeles Times

On Torture, 2 Messages and a High Political Cost - New York Times

The Mukasey Test - Washington Times

A Crisis of Honor - The Daily Dish (The Atlantic)

Ace Interrogator: "Waterboarding is Torture... Period." - Passport (Foreign Policy)

Tortured Logic - New York Daily News

The Mukasey Test -- Washington Times

Target Mukasey - New York Post

Mukasey's Confirmation: A Vote about Torture -- Los Angeles Times

There's No Avoiding the Waterboarding Issue - Kansas City Star

Links with Comments

Malcolm Nance - Díºnedain of the Week - Stonekettle Station

Ex-Navy Instructor Promises to Hit Back If Attacked on Torture - TPM Muckraker

Waterboarding is Torture - Abu Muqawama

Waterboarding is Torture... Period - MountainRunner

Waterboarding is Torture... Period -- The Belmont Club

Politics - Tip-Toeing Around Torture - The AG (Time)

Tortured Answer - Slate

Target: Jamal al-Badawi - The Captain's Journal

We Legitimized Waterboarding - Swampland (Time)

On the Virtue of Waterboarding and Secret Prisons -- Blackfive

Waterboarding is Torture... Period - Mother Jones

Former Navy SEAL Instructor Offers Waterboarding Primer - TPM Muckraker

SERE Instructor: Waterboarding is Torture - Captain's Quarters

My Opinion is Fact, Period: On Rhetoric, Waterboarding, and Torture - tdaxp

10 Questions on Torture - tdaxp

Waterboarding is Torture - Outside the Beltway

Troubled Waters - Wizbang

Slow Motion Suffocation - Headline Junky

A Bluf that Needs to be Called, Part Two - Power Line

Waterboarding is Torture - Interact

Waterboarding the Senate - PrairiePundit

Defending Democracy Using of Khmer Rouge Techniques - The American Prospect

Barbaric - Total Information Awareness

SEAL on Waterboarding - Winds of Change

If You Read One Post About Waterboarding - The Plank (The New Republic)

McCain on Rudy on Torture. (Updated) - Comonweal

Waterboarding is Torture - The Raw Story

Waterboarding - Obsidian Wings

Meanwhile, Back in the Real World - Catholic and Enjoying It

Come for the Beaches, Stay for the Waterboarding -- MetaFilter

The Water Cooler - Inside Indiana Message Boards

Impressive Article on Waterboarding - Gun Broker Discussion Board

Waterboarding is Torture - Space Battles Discussion Board


Small Wars Council


AZgirl (not verified)

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 5:41pm

Reading comments sections is my guilty pleasure. In all the years I've been reading these sections, I've never seen such well-thought-out arguments. This is a very complicated issue, isn't it?

I'm glad that the people who've chosen to comment on it so far haven't just reacted, but have instead shown that they've been affected by the information he has presented.

Nance has presented arguments that have changed my thinking.

My previous instinctive reaction has always been that America should apply a "whatever it takes" approach to those "24" ticking time bomb scenarioes. And from what I'd read on the internet about waterboarding, it didn't sound too bad at all. In fact, the nicie-nice descriptions of waterboarding made me wonder why we were even bothering with it at all. Hey, even our troops who had been put through it in training didn't have any complaints about it.

If waterboarding isn't any worse than putting panties on someone's head or a dog collar around their neck in order to take a picture showing that you are "the boss of them", then why even bother with it? Nobody suggests that our interrogation experts have ever used panties as a last resort in order to extract information from someone suspected of withholding crucial information. So why is waterboarding any different?

Nance has described how waterboarding can be used in actual practice that show very clearly that it can be considered a type of torture. I don't think that any of us have ever really understood how bad this procedure can be in the hands of operatives totally lacking a hint of conscience.

Can we really compare the experiences of SERE students who've been waterboarded for a short time (under careful supervision) to the experiences of those subjected to it in the field when they are inhaling pints and pints of water into their lungs?

Until I read Nance's post, I would have been among the first to say that America needs to push the limits when it comes to extracting information from suspected terrorists. But it certainly appears that this "acceptable" form of pressure could easily be abused.

dan tdaxp

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 4:00pm

I <a href="… with criticism over at my blog</a>.

Mr. Nance's piece works very well as an op-ed. Rhetoric is clearly one of his many, many, many talents (I read the author bio!). He has a future in it.

However, this piece does not work to convince someone who does not already agree with his opinions. In this, it is similar to Dawkins' argument against religion.

ReflectionEphemeral (not verified)

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 4:00pm

<i>Those who would rather see LA hit by a nuclear weapon and send Jack Bauer to prison for trying to get information to stop it have made their moral choice and if they are not in LA at the time the bomb goes off will have to live with their feelings of moral superiority.</i>

If the Hollywood screenwriter's scenario of a ticking time bomb ever actually happens on Planet Earth-- which, to date, it has not-- then Jack Bauer will have to hope for a pardon, prosecutorial discretion, or a sympathetic jury.

But it is extremely unintelligent to insist on the regularization of violating human rights, US law, and international law, simply because you saw something on TV that would render that violation justified.

Texan (not verified)

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 3:40pm

Responding to Nuzzolillo's two comments:

I'm intrigued by your line of reasoning. It's quite simple, really, despite the many ways you've explained it: Because we kill people in war, anything else we do to them is okay - so long as we can claim cause. Truly fascinating. You've even been kind enough to provide a basic litmus test in your final paragraph. If we aren't (1) targeting the innocent, (2) sadistically motivated, and (3) without just cause, then the sky is the limit!

This got me thinking about treatment of prisoners in our own country. Most states have the death penalty, so does the same argument apply? If we are willing to kill our prisoners while they sit motionless and incapable of causing us harm, are we free to terrorize them (with cause!)? And since you're the present authority, can you define which causes are just? If the prisoner has knowledge of crimes yet to be commited, can we let loose? Do those crimes have to be especially egregious (ie: child molestation / rape / murder), or will simple property crimes do?

If acceptable only for the particularly heinous stuff, how many citizens must be at risk? A bus full? A building full (how many stories)? A whole city? I've noticed the "nuclear bomb in a major city" cliche come up a few times. That one's easy, but I'll need somebody to help me out with the exact number that makes it okay to do that which has, until now, been the very thing we fought to stop.

The full extent of your argument is just beginning to dawn on me. Any country that has ever been involved in a war has given itself permission to treat its prisoners/detainees/word-of-the-day however it sees fit, so long as there is the promise of information that may, or may not, prove to keep its citizens from harm! Brilliant! Would this have applied to the Vietnamese holding John McCain? Were their aims (self-preservation? victory?) enough to justify his treatment?

What makes me particularly angry is that you and your ilk presumably consider yourselves true Americans (at least, I got a taste of that from Prariepundit's comment immediately preceding yours). You're not. And even commendable service in the military won't change that. True Americans are unwilling to sell their souls for security, are unwilling to justify cruelty in hopes of maintaining the illusion of security, and don't use the evils of war to justify whatever actions will help them feel safe on that particular day.

Jared Nuzzolillo (not verified)

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 3:34pm

An addendum:

I want to highlight the fact that *waterboarding should only be used in specific, extreme circumstances*. It is a terrible thing, and must only be used when all other, more savory, techniques have failed.

All righteous, thinking people feel much the same about war, with the possible exception of pacifists. It is interesting as a gedankexperiment to employ the same exact arguments used against torture to the subject of war. One must accept pacifism, or reject the validity of those arguments.

War is cruel and terrible. But not evil per se. Only by carefully examining the surrounding moral context (especially the wars aims and its justification) can one determine if engaging in war is a morally upright action. This is completely analogous to torture.

Hakim (not verified)

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 3:08pm

We must continue to use any and every means to thwart terrorists. Torture is not a means to thwarting terrorists, if anything it gives them more fuel. The gentleman who wrote this article should be commended for this post. He has shared his experiences with us. I sense that he is grieved because of the course this nation is taking. I was not shocked when I first heard of the techniques that are being used. But I am alarmed that there was not more of an outcry from the public. We as the citizens of this great nation are culpable when we do not speak out against things like this. It is not simply a matter of debate. It is a matter of conscience; it is a matter of honor, and a matter of integrity. I'm reminded of a song by the 70s group War. It states, "You've been slippin' into darkness, pretty soon you're gonna pay." We should not maintain the use of torture as a practice and give it another name, for instance "robust interrogation". Our morals and standards are slipping, and this should be a cause of great concern.

Jared Nuzzolillo (not verified)

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 2:15pm

A Common Response:

My correspondents seem to have a problem with the fact that we will play the moral judge. That is precisely what we do each day our men and women stay in a combat zone. We decide who lives, and who dies. It's interesting that one is willing to *kill* an enemy or vaporize him in his home (even at the expense of 'collateral damage') but is unwilling to apply techniques that volunteers in our military purposefully endure.

To the marine general I ask -- tho purely rhetorically of course: "Do you want your son to be shot in the head, arm or leg? Would you like for him to lose all his limbs because he has come to meet you in your home for the celebration of a religious dinner?". If not, I suggest he stops doing the same to his enemies, or (hopefully) recognizes the dangerous inconsistency in his position.

Unfortunately, it is my interlocutors arguments that force our moral philosophy to be unsteady and vague when it must be stalwart and stark. Killing a man is fair play, while causing him psychological terror is not? No, the moral difference is not in the tactic used -- it is whether the action is justified.

Where our enemy goes wrong is in its purposeful targeting of innocent, esp unmobilized, civilians, its actions birthed of sadism and -- most of all -- the terrible injustice of its cause.

Merv Benson

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 1:03pm

Point 3. is extremely weak as is Fian's somewhat adaptation of it.

Our enemy beheads prisoners and subjects them to extreme mutilation, yet we don't and no one even thinks it would be a good idea for us to do it. The fact is that when this enemy has control of our people or anyone else he is not going to make some rational case for waterboarding because we might have used it. He is what he is, regardless of any choices we make in coercive interrogation.

Those who would rather see LA hit by a nuclear weapon and send Jack Bauer to prison for trying to get information to stop it have made their moral choice and if they are not in LA at the time the bomb goes off will have to live with their feelings of moral superiority.

As for the I don't want my son to be subjected to ... argument, I find that as weak as the I don't want my son to die for oil argument. Frankly I don't want my son to die defending the capitol steps, but I respect the choices he made when he joined the Marine Corps as I did.

Demosophist (not verified)

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 12:35pm

The problem with Malcom's argument is that it's incoherent to suggest that we can ethically use the technique on our own volunteers (for whatever pedagogical reasons) but that it must be out of bounds when applied to people who are willing to kill tens of thousands of Americans at a time, saw off our heads with a rusty blade, etc. I'd suggest that any technique that volunteers are willing to undergo is fair to apply to an enemy, provided that the extremity and duration of the application are comparable, and that similar monitoring methods are used.

In fact, the only argument I can think of against such usage is that it's impossible to ensure those conditions. And that isn't a moral argument, it's an empirical one... and therefore testable.

Marzouq (not verified)

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 12:35pm

Sir, Thank you for clearing this up for any who still have doubts. I believe your stance and the stance of USMC is correct.

I recall a particular story about a captured Japanese soldier during WWII. He fully expected severe torture but he was treated with respect according to the Geneva Convention. He was offered food and drink, even a smoke. It shocked him so, to the point he became very cooperative and useful.

Those conditioned to hate may be the best candidates for the above mentioned treatment and the results more effective.

I see fear and the resulting hate as the biggest threat to civilization and our victory against the forces of evil.

Thank you for your service and this astute article.

Salaam eleikum.

dan tdaxp

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 6:08pm


Would it be fair to say that your objections are entirely technical -- that information just won't be reliable, that there are not methods around this, and the time value of the information is very small.

(And, of course, if for whatever reasons these objections do not hold, torture is perfectly permissible? Is the acceptable utility/honor trade price published or knowable?)

I agree 100% with Mr. Nance.

The utilitarian argument put forward for waterboarding neglects to mention that the information produced by torture is notoriously unreliable.

Furthermore, with the certainty that torture will be applied, the use of simple security techniques ensures that the information produced will be of little or no value and have a very short "shelf life".

As Mr. Nance said so eloquently: "It's not a fair trade for America's Honor."

Gian P Gentile

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 6:36am

Short comment follows. Agree 100% with Mr Nance; disagree 100% with Mr Nuzzolillo; and agree 100% with Carl's response to Nuzolillo.

I wish Mr Clifford May of the Weekly Standard would have read Mr Nance's excellent piece (i have already saved Nance's for future reference)before he wrote an oped piece a few days ago shamelessly justifying such techniques; or to be more fair to May's argument to at least consider the possibility of using such techniques as waterboarding. NO

I like the comment that a marine General made last year when asked if he thought that such techniques such as waterboarding were legitimate. He said no and his justification was pure, simple, and heartfelt. If his son were captured by "an enemy" would he think such techniques as waterboarding would be appropriate for intergogation in this hypothetical with his captured son? His answer of course was NO and it would be mine too. Well done Mr Nance.

Mr. Nuzzolillo:

In your first section, you imply the "brave men and women...who perform their duty by water-boarding" have the same courage as those who go out on Route Clearance Teams, or are EOD techs, or land helicopters in contested fields to rescue downed crews, or go out of foot patrols day after day. They don't. At best they have been misled and exploited by leaders who should know better; at worst they are sadists.

Your point 1 is as chilling a rationalization of evil as I have ever read.

Point 2 seems to state we will play the moral judge, "this group deserves it, but that group doesn't". The African Union trooops make your cut, how about abducted members of the Lord's Resistance Army, their abductors, the officers, who? Are you going to publish a list?

Point 3: Yes torture is evil, even if WE do it. No moral equivalence about it. It seems to me you are using vengeance and torture interchangeably; this guy did wrong therefore torture (vengeance) is OK, this guy did no wrong therefore were aren't justified in seeking vengeance (torturing him) upon him. This seems to be an effort to cloud the moral point.

Point 4: A few low ranking soldiers served a few years in jail for Abu Ghraib. The Sec Def, the Attorney General, and John Yoo, the guys who helped set the stage for that shame, their careers kept marching on.

This whole thing horrifies me because my countrymen are like the "denizens of Hitler...and Pol Pot" if they do these things.

Point 5: You point out Al Queda is evil. I can agree with that.

How sad. You have the audacity to designate the brave men and women of our armed service -- who perform their duty by water-boarding men of admittedly unspeakable evil -- to be morally comparable to their enemies. You arguments are demagogic and specious.

1. "Torture does not work." You are correct, unless of course it is applied in a tactically sound manner. In the stereotyped scenario, which admittedly has been employed by the truly sadistic, a torturer begins by developing a list of crimes to which he hopes the torturee will confess. Then torture is applied and -- lo and behold -- a confession is extracted. IF our nation was so foolish as to use this technique, I would agree that torture doesn't work. But they do not. Instead, they start with a portfolio of intelligence they believe to be true with a high degree of certainty. Then they slowly apply more and more powerful psychological and physical techniques until they believe that the subjects will has collapsed. But they do not accept just any interesting tidbit -- they first ensure that the subject's will has collapsed and that they are not being sabotaged by asking questions to which they already have an answer. In so doing, they ensure that they are not being fed the answer the subject "knows" they want to hear (For a real-istic example, "Was there a chemical weapons unit being trained in the second safe-house you slept at in Karachi?" A subject who has not been trained yet that false positive answers yield further punishment may decide to answer incorrectly. But this will worsen his treatment. He will learn quickly, I assure you).

2. Our enemies will torture our soldiers. They do and will continue to. This is truly a rhetorical trick -- you, I and the other readers all know our most evil enemies will subject our men and women to unspeakable, *undeserved* pain and humiliation as they see fit. Our more civilized enemies might not, just as we wouldn't decide to torture our more civilized prisoners (the highest officials in our government -- last I checked, it was the President himself -- must sign off on each and every increase in severity in interrogation techniques for each and every prisoner on a case by case basis. So these would not be employed in -- say -- a hypothetical war against the civilized soldiers of the African Union).

3. The heart of the argument is an argument of moral equivalence. Our enemies torture and that is evil, so if we torture, we are evil. But they same can be said of killing (ie, murder), capturing (ie, stealing) enemy supplies, etc. This is why it is better to use the Orwellian-feeling phrase of "enhanced interrogation". "Killing" is morally neutral. As is "capturing". But that "torture" historically has no such analogue is an outcome of squeamishness, moral cowardice or faulty logic, not wise ethical philosophy. Throwing an innocent man in jail is evil, whereas throwing a criminal in jail is just; similarly, torture birthed of sadism or employed upon a likely innocent victim is evil, while it employing it on an admitted mass murderer to prevent further mass murder is just. You are trying to decree a purely amoral act as immoral while stripping it of its entire ethical context. This is at the least irresponsible and wrongheaded, or worse -- in accusing honorable men of profound evil -- morally negligent. You sir and your ilk are enabling the criminals of al Qaeda to employ the argument of moral justice -- bin Laden's favorite when addressing the West (see, eg,… ).

4. You equivocate on the word "torture". By comparing our brave men and women to the denizens of Hitler, Stalin, Saddam and Pol Pot, you invoke images of pure hell and sadism. But when our troops are found guilty of that breed of sadism, they are roundly punished. This renders hollow the claims of our enemies that "We closed Saddams torture chambers to open our own". What audacious bile! And yet, you mention Abu Gharaib, when its very infamy proves the falsity of your accusations. No sir, America has not given up its heart and soul -- for we punish those whom our enemies promote!

5. Just for the record: al Qaeda manuals teach their readers to dream up the most unspeakable tortures and humiliations whenever possible. Also, several very popular "torture tell all" documentaries, treatments, articles and appearances have later proven (almost certainly) false.

In conclusion, your piece is interesting, but at worst vile and at best terribly misguided. I am almost entirely certain that in your case it is the latter. Sadly, that is not the case when our most dangerous enemies employ almost the exact same arguments.

"Waterboarding is Torture...Period"

Thank you Mr. Nance for a plain statement of fact; a fact that should be obvious. It that breaks my heart that so many Americans, my countrymen, in high positions of privilege, with magnificent educations and extraordinary talents, don't see the plain immorality of torture. What they see is that advocating torture might make them look bad, so they make "nuanced" arguments about "enhanced techiques" and which we should consider under what circumstances.

All their arguments are rationalizations of evil. Thank you for pointing that out.

I also thank you for your service. And I thank you for this important and disquieting article. I recall Franz Kafka's reference to "An axe in the frozen sea". He was talking about writing. And this is the effect your authoritative essay has had on me.

I, like so many of us, am still reeling from the shock of 9/11. The more I have learned about our enemies since that awful day, the more my heart has hardened against them. The more my heart has hardened, the less room is left for any form of compassion or compromise.

I see us as being weakened by our very own high-minded ethical standards. I continually try to see the enemy for who they are and stop trying to rationalize away their hatred or empathize with their positions. I want to see us toughen up as a nation and face these obvious threats clearly, without multiculturalist obfuscations.

I bristle at any suggestion of our moral failings by the highly-vocal, activist antiwar left. I feel that they are purposely undermining the moral foundations of their own country in a time of war for their own selfish political agenda.

This was my mindset coming into this article. I had come to terms with the whole "torture" debate by accepting its efficacy. To the often-asked question: "If there was a nuclear attack planned against a major US city, would you subject a captured terrorist to torture to reveal where it was planned to take place?" the answer was pretty obvious to me: Of course. Give him the full treatment.

The argument that if we use torture, then our enemies might use it against us seemed ludicrous. I could hardly visualize the beheaders of Nick Berg stopping for a moment to first consult their copy of the Geneva Conventions Rules.

However, because of your obvious experience and credentials, I followed your argument to the very end. And, thankfully, because I followed it to the end, my rock-solid certainity was shaken. I hadn't considered what FUTURE governments might do with this precedent. I even began to question the efficacy of the whole idea.

In short, I've started to have some serious doubts about my previous convictions. I have to think about it some more. You may very well be right, after all. And I might be wrong.

Isn't this what good political writing is all about? Not just preaching to the choir, but standing up for something you believe in and fighting for it with the best words you can conjure up.

In this you have most certainly been successful, and I thank you for upsetting this particular applecart.

gmee (not verified)

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 2:44am

Thank you for your service, Sir.

And thank you for providing a very good description of waterboarding and the whole torture situation without the usual heavy dose of political BS.

Your report is informative, convincing, and much appreciated. Hopefully Mr. Bush will come to understand your point of view on this. Hopefully the next CinC will, as well.