Most practices of interrogation and torture of prisoners from the 14th century have died out. Being drawn and quartered, tarred and feathered, or burned at the stake sounds pretty foreign to most of us, in application to the United States at least. So why, may I ask, is waterboarding not regarded as inhumane like these practices? Obama banned the practice in 2009, but opinions are pretty split regarding waterboarding. Some of the aforementioned practices were more from feudal Europe, or served as vigilante-type justice in the United States, but still – they were used.
Waterboarding is the practice of restraining someone, putting a cloth over their entire face, and spraying or pouring water over their head. This simulates the sensation of drowning, and has been used in the past as a form of capital punishment or interrogation torture. Because the subject is immobilized on their back, when water is poured over the breathing passages, it causes an almost immediate gag reflex. It can cause extreme pain, dry drowning, damage to lungs, brain damage from oxygen deprivation, and broken bones due to struggling against the restraints. That is not even including the psychological damage that can last a lifetime, not to mention the possibility of death if the process is not stopped in time.
Being hanged, drawn, and quartered was a feudal European punishment in which a person was hanged until death was imminent; then disemboweled, emasculated, beheaded, and then quartered. Not fun stuff. This was abolished in 1848. Tarring and feathering is exactly what it sounds like, and was used to enforce unofficial justice or revenge. This method was used not only in feudal Europe, but in the American frontier too! Events of the accused being tarred and feathered in America occurred all the way up until the 1920’s – though rare. And being burned at the stake is pretty self explanatory; and it also happened in America – particularly in Massachusetts were several disobedient slaves were killed by this method. These tactics are absolutely horrid, and they are now outlawed. But why is waterboarding not part of this group of “extinct” methods of torture?
Now I realize that if I had to choose between being drawn and quartered and being waterboarded, I would choose the latter. But neither is humane. Why is it that we have come to outlaw these forms of torture and capital punishment many years ago, but waterboarding is a far more recent legislation? In 2007, it was reported that the CIA was using waterboarding as an “interrogation technique” and that the U.S. Department of Justice had authorized it. This is directly hypocritical because the U.S. government hanged Japanese soldiers for waterboarding U.S. POWs in World War II. Furthermore, the CIA confirms the use of waterboarding on three Al-Qaeda suspects in 2002 and 2003. During the presidency of George W. Bush, several government officials came out to say they did not believe waterboarding to be a form of torture.
John McCain has publicly condemned waterboarding, saying “it is a mock execution and thus an exquisite form or torture. As such, they are prohibited by American laws and values, and I oppose them.” Several journalists have voluntarily undergone waterboarding to determine whether or not it really is torture. One Chicago author and journalist, Eric Muller, underwent the procedure in May of 2009 to prove his convictions that it was not torture, but came of it with major psychological damage and retracts his previous statements; now condemning it as a form of extreme physical and mental torture.
Yet in the recent Republican debate, Herman Cain and Michele Bachman both publicly approved of waterboarding. In fact, they both said that if elected, they would reinstate and legalize the process. This past Saturday, republican candidate Herman Cain insisted “I don’t see it as torture. I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique.” Additionally, Michele Bachman said it was “very effective,” and that “it gained information for our country.” But thankfully, not all of the candidates agreed. Texas rep. Ron Paul said it was “immoral” and “illegal.” Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman perhaps said it best when he explained that making waterboarding permissible would “diminish our standing in the world and the values that we project, which include liberty, democracy, human rights, and open markets when we torture.”
John McCain responded strongly to the candidates and said that he was “very disappointed by the GOP candidates; waterboarding is torture,” according to a tweet from McCain. He continued, saying “if you put enough physical pain on somebody, they will tell you whatever they think that you want to hear in order for the pain to stop.” In my opinion, I think this lends itself to the technique bringing about results, sure, but not necessarily true ones. How effective can an interrogation be if we don’t know if the person is telling the truth or just trying to stop the torture? I think that if we pride ourselves on the values our country was built upon, we cannot pick and choose the parts which we appreciate. The eighth amendment to the Bill of Rights reads “excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Maybe I’m keeping it too simple, but I say that waterboarding is cruel and unusual punishment. What do you think?