There is a video circulating that covers a radio talk-show host who underwent waterboarding in order to claim that he had done it and that it was not that bad. He ended up declaring that waterboarding is torture.
(See: NBCChicago, Mancow Waterboarded, Admits It's Torture)
There are a couple of points that I want to mention about this.
First, I have heard quite a few people claim that the horror of waterboarding depends a lot on what a person thinks. If the victim believes he is not going to be killed, then waterboarding is not so bad.
This does not stand in the face of evidence. Waterboarding is not bad because of what the victim thinks. Waterboarding is bad because of how it feels.
In this respect it is much like having salt poured into an open wound, or having electrodes fastened to one's genitals and the current turned on. It does not matter what the victim thinks with respect to whether his captors are going to kill him. What matters is how it feels. Quite obviously, it feels pretty bad.
Second, journalists who have themselves waterboarded are able to stop the experiment at a moment's notice. They say that this is torture, but they have not actually experienced what the victims of waterboarding actually experience. The victims of waterboarding are not given a plastic cow to drop or any way to signal his captors to stop. The captors do not stop.
A victim of waterboarding may not last any longer than Mancow did. However, the captor would have simply ignored that fact and kept pouring water down Mancow's throat regardless of anything he did. He would have been kept in that state up to the point when the captors decided to release him – when the captors deemed that there was now a risk of death. (And, sometimes, the captors can miscalculate.)
Finally, I would like to close with a claim that I have made before when I have written on this subject – the moral claim that I think deserves to be mentioned.
The President or talk show host or commentator who says that waterboarding is permissible and those who engage in it should not be prosecuted are implying by this statement that they would not demand that any charges be filed against foreign agents who waterboard American soldiers. If they are saying that this is an acceptable way to treat captives, then they are saying that this is an acceptable way to treat Americans who are captured.
Whatever we do to others, we give others moral permission to do to us. I, for one, do not give others moral permission to waterboard Americans they have captured.