Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Unspoken Facts about Waterboarding

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.


Baconsbud said...

Your next to last paragraph says why we need to prosecute people for torturing people. If we think it is ok then how can we hold others responsible for doing it. I hope that in time the American people will be able to force action but afraid it is like most subjects. When the press quits talking about it we as a people seem to forget it.

TW said...

Another great post.

It amazes me that there is any debate as to waterboarding being torture or not. When I read people seriously trying to suggest it is not torture because its a "bit discomforting" or similar it really shocks me. For that reason I appreciate the people who have undergone this voluntarily in an effort to raise awareness.

TW said...

p.s. have you read the comments on the NBC Chigago page?


Anonymous said...

"Whatever we do to others, we give others moral permission to do to us."

Does this apply both ways? In other words, do we have moral permision to saw heads off of captured non-military (Pearl, Berg, etc.) or military men?

Emu Sam said...

Moral permission from a single source is not moral permission from all sources. A mother may let a child eat things a teacher would not. One household may allow feet on the coffee table. One person may hurt another, thus giving permission to do the same. However, society as a whole may choose to deny permission to do the same.

The "turnabout is fair play" mentality is not a mentality that society as a whole has reason to support. We discovered the flaws in that in the days of vendettas escalating into something resembling street warfare. But in order to enforce the opposite mentality, one thing we must do is hold the opposite mentality ourselves. We do not get special privileges. We must enforce on ourselves the mentality we want others to have.

Yes, those who have cut off heads give us permission to cut off other people's heads. But most of the world is still policing itself and denying us that same permission. Furthermore, we have reason to deny ourselves such a permission if we want to stop anyone from killing.

Instead of a mentality of "turnabout," it has been discovered that the rule of law both gives people reason to not break the law (because the legal system includes ways to punish) and removes most reasons to get revenge for the punishment, provided the system is seen as fair to all parties.