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I Tried Waterboarding


My budz Ethan and Kristin and I were wandering around bored a few weekends ago and decided to see what waterboarding was like. That might sound like a pretty weird thing to do, but bear with me.

For you lucky few who don’t follow politics: “waterboarding” is the thing that has cropped up lately in the news about whether the government should be able to torture people, and what counts as an acceptable interrogation technique. Waterboarding is a provocative topic because it hedges the line between “effective and necessary interrogation” and “torture”.

Wikipedia “waterboarding” and you see it’s a simple procedure. One lays down on his back, on a flat surface such as a board. The arms and legs are outstretched and tied down. You tilt the board a bit vertically, so that the feet are raised and the head is tilted back. A plastic sheet like cellophane or saran wrap is wrapped around the face and head. Then, water is continuously poured down directly onto the person’s face. As in this pic.

Ethan and Kristin and I created a less severe version of this setup in a bathtub, with a garden pitcher of water and an old plastic bag that used to hold toilet paper.

Kristin went first and lay down in the tub with her legs raised. Ethan and I stood over her nervously with the pitcher of water. She wrapped the bag around her face, really tight so that it squashed her cheeks in and pressed her lips against the plastic like a fish, and then made a signal for us to start pouring. She lay for a moment while the water streamed down, and then, as expected, started squirming and signaled for us to stop. We took the plastic off and it turns out she had felt an uncontrollable gag-feeling coming on.

Ethan and I then lay in the tub and repeated the procedure. We agreed: for several seconds things were tolerable, but then we started to feel a weird drowning/suffocating feeling, even though no water was actually entering our mouths or nostrils.

The general consensus was that to do a proper waterboarding, we would need a lot more water, so that there is a flood of water pouring all over the face and head continually. And, to maximize the helpless feeling of the situation, one’s arms and legs would have to be tied down. But, for all three of us, we definitely got an idea of the way it makes you gag and how it would be intolerable.

Getting a hint firsthand of waterboarding definitely made me think of the moral and political issues surrounding it. What about the “ticking time bomb” scenarios in which you need to know right now where a bomb is in order to save lives? Do we want pro-waterboarding rhetoric in the political discourse right now, given the rampant anti-Americanism here and abroad?

Theory plus practice, baby.

Theory plus practice.

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