Just in case the revelation that American torturers took their cues from that model of moral clarity that was the Chinese Communist regime hasn't fully convinced you that the practice is unquestionably, incontrovertibly evil, Christopher Hitchens' column in the August 2008 Vanity Fair, "Believe Me, It's Torture," ought to drive the point home. That is, if the accompanying video, available online at Vanity Fair's website, doesn't do it first.
In the video, Christopher Hitchens is brought, hooded and bound, into an austere looking storage room, and placed on a board, slightly elevated at its foot. He is instructed by the similarly masked interrogators on how to call a halt to the procedure, either through a safe word - "red" - or by releasing the "dead man's handle" - a metal object placed in each hand. A towel is placed over his face and one of the interrogators begins pouring water on Hitchens' face from an ordinary-looking milk carton. The interrogators demonstrate no more aggression that one might when watering a houseplant. In fact, the process looks so unremarkable that you begin to wonder if they aren't simply "warming Hitchens up" for something worse.
Seventeen seconds pass, and then Hitchens drops the dead man's handle. When the hood is removed, it is jarring to see how panic-stricken Hitchens looks.
In the video, Hitchens describes the experience:
They told me that when I activated the 'dead man's handle' - which is a simple process, you simply release something, let it go - I didn't do that. I practically, even though my hands were bound, I...as near as I could...I threw the thing out of my hand. I mean, I really wanted it to stop.
I could swear I shouted the code word, but I hadn't.
Everything completely goes on you when you're breathing water. You can't think about anything else.
It would be bad enough if you did have something. Suppose if they wanted to know where a relative of yours was...or a lover. You feel, "Well, I'm going to betray them now. Because this has to come to an end. I can't take this anymore." But what if you didn't have anything? What if you'd got the wrong guy? Then you would be in danger of losing your mind very quickly.
That last paragraph, I believe, is critical, especially considering the torture practices of the Chinese Communists - who we are now emulating - were designed to elicit false confessions from those who were tortured.
Attention should be paid to the aftermath of the experience as well, which Hitchens relates thusly:
As a result of this very brief experience, if I do anything that gets my heart rate up, and I'm breathing hard, panting, I have a slight panic sensation that I'm not going to be able to catch my breath again...lately I've been having this feeling of waking up feeling smothered, trying to push everything off my face.
It takes only seventeen seconds to impact the life of an innocent man.
PREVIOUSLY, ON THE HUFFINGTON POST: Former U.S. Navy Seal Kaj Larsen experienced waterboarding firsthand, and recounted the ordeal for the Huffington Post (and on CurrentTV) in a piece titled: "A Lesson For Mukasey: Why I Had Myself Water-Boarded"