Christopher Hitchens Finds Out That Waterboarding Is Torture

We could have told him that, but he had to find out for himself:

Late last year, the writer, polemicist and fierce proponent of the US-led invasion of Iraq Christopher Hitchens attempted, in a piece for the online magazine Slate, to draw a distinction between what he called techniques of “extreme interrogation” and “outright torture”.

From this, his foes inferred that since it was Hitchens’ belief that America did not stoop to the latter, the practice of waterboarding – known to be perpetrated by US forces against certain “high-value clients” in Iraq and elsewhere – must fall under the former heading.

Enraged by what they saw as an exercise in elegant but offensive sophistry, some of the writer’s critics suggested that Hitchens give waterboarding (which may sound like some kind of fun aquatic pastime, but is probably best summarised as enforced partial drowning) a whirl, just to see what it was like. Did the experience feel like torture?

Yes, it did, and in fact, it was:

… You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it “simulates” the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning—or, rather, being drowned, albeit slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those who are applying the pressure. The “board” is the instrument, not the method. You are not being boarded. You are being watered. …

Here is the legal disclaimer Hitchens had to sign before being subjected to forcible attempted drowning:

It goes without saying that I knew I could stop the process at any time, and that when it was all over I would be released into happy daylight rather than returned to a darkened cell. But it’s been well said that cowards die many times before their deaths, and it was difficult for me to completely forget the clause in the contract of indemnification that I had signed. This document (written by one who knew) stated revealingly:

“Water boarding” is a potentially dangerous activity in which the participant can receive serious and permanent (physical, emotional and psychological) injuries and even death, including injuries and death due to the respiratory and neurological systems of the body.

As the agreement went on to say, there would be safeguards provided “during the ‘water boarding’ process, however, these measures may fail and even if they work properly they may not prevent Hitchens from experiencing serious injury or death.”

Apologists for torture by drowning tell us that it “is exactly the right technique for interrogating terrorists [because] it takes only two or three minutes, is almost always effective, and does no harm to the terrorist.”

Here is what Hitchens says about that:

There was a paramedic present who checked my racing pulse and warned me about adrenaline rush. An interval was ordered, and then I felt the mask come down again. Steeling myself to remember what it had been like last time, and to learn from the previous panic attack, I fought down the first, and some of the second, wave of nausea and terror but soon found that I was an abject prisoner of my gag reflex. The interrogators would hardly have had time to ask me any questions, and I knew that I would quite readily have agreed to supply any answer. I still feel ashamed when I think about it. Also, in case it’s of interest, I have since woken up trying to push the bedcovers off my face, and if I do anything that makes me short of breath I find myself clawing at the air with a horrible sensation of smothering and claustrophobia. No doubt this will pass. …

So is there anything we won’t do, any line we won’t cross, any former enemy we won’t copy from?

3 Responses to “Christopher Hitchens Finds Out That Waterboarding Is Torture”

  1. tas says:

    Is there any chance of him being waterboarded a few more times for supporting the Iraq war?

  2. Kathy says:

    Actually, I have a certain amount of newfound respect for him that he did this. He didn’t have to. And that he acknowledged it was torture after he experienced it. It sounds completely counterintuitive, but there are people who refuse to concede that point even when (they say) they have been waterboarded themselves. Read Macsmind’s post about the Hitchens article. He said he was waterboarded in a military exercise and it was “not fun” but it wasn’t torture. And then there are all the right-wingers who continue to support torture by drowning even after reading credible reports by people who have seen it done or experienced it themselves.

    It’s actually got me quite depressed right now. It just makes me feel so sad and so angry at the same time, that anyone could actually condone this kind of thing.

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