Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Does Waterboarding get bad information?

11 comments:

exapologist said...

There's an excellent piece on this at
www.onthemedia.org

Victor Reppert said...

Just one more point. This is supposed to be effective because it is so distressing to the victim that they will talk in order to put a stop to it?? That's why it's so effective. The infamous tough guy KSM could only put up with 2 1/2 minutes of it before he started singing like a canary? But it isn't torture??? And you're the guys who impeached Clinton for saying he didn't have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, on the grounds that Clinton was using a tortured conception of "sexual relations." And then you voted for Bush to restore honor and integrity to the Presidency of the United States.

If you want to defend this as moral, call it what it is. It's torture.

IlĂ­on said...

"And you're the guys who impeached Clinton for saying he didn't have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, on the grounds that Clinton was using a tortured conception of "sexual relations." And then you voted for Bush to restore honor and integrity to the Presidency of the United States."
Now you're torturing reason, and morality, and legality, and language, and history.

*Please* step back; regain your equilibrium.

"This is supposed to be effective because it is so distressing to the victim that they will talk in order to put a stop to it?? That's why it's so effective. The infamous tough guy KSM could only put up with 2 1/2 minutes of it before he started singing like a canary? But it isn't torture???"
I'm taking no position on its effectiveness.

It isn’t torture; and no amount of emotion-mongering will make it into torture.

But, it's so distressing (if you insist upon using that word) because it initiates a physiological panic reaction – it doesn’t matter that the person *knows* he is in no danger, the panic reaction is automatic.

And, therefore, it may well be very effective.

It ought to be possible to induce the same effect without water (and possibly even more quickly) by reducing the oxygen content and increasing the carbon dioxide content of the air the subject is allowed to breathe.

When people are drowning (or think they are), it’s not the water which causes the panic, it’s not the lack of oxygen which causes the panic; it’s the excess carbon dioxide levels in the blood which cause the panic. Someone who is in fact dying of oxygen deprivation due to breathing carbon monoxide doesn’t (typically) experience the “drowning” panic reaction (so long as they are able to expel the CO2, their body doesn’t realize it is “drowning”).

exapologist said...

When will you be making out your cut of the check to those Japanese folks we sued for waterboarding our citizens? Just wondering, ilion

Victor Reppert said...

What do you guys make of the claim that waterboarding isn't simulated drowning, it is drowning.

If you stimulate my brain in such a way that I experience what I would experience if someone were to put me on the rack, would it be any less torture than if you put me on the rack?
And what do you think torture is?

SlagleRock said...

I'm torn on this. On the one hand, the idea that an experience is so horrible that I'd say or do anything to stop it (like in the end of 1984) terrifies me. But on the other hand, American servicemen who volunteer for special forces (like the Army Special Forces, Navy SEALS, Marine Corps Recon) are waterboarded as part of their training. This amounts to thousands of people per year. So the vast majority of people who are waterboarded are volunteers. Can you think of any other kind of torture, worthy of the name, that people volunteer for?

Victor Reppert said...

The obvious response to this is that it looks as if waterboarding's effectiveness as torture is diminished when you know it's being done to you by someone who isn't going to kill you. My guess is that even for the volunteers, it's a pretty distressing experience. I heard a military expert on the radio explain that this training is given to people who are dealing with enemies whom we know have no respect for international law and therefore might do this sort of thing. How that got to be us is what gives me such concern.

The other thing is that people expect that whatever psychological distress they might experience, they know before they go in that this will not leave them physically damaged, as would not be the case with the rack, the thumbscrew, or the iron maiden (the torture device, not the rock group). I think think this is the basis on which it is supposed to be not torture. But if we accept that definition, then if we could stimulate people's brains to simulate the rack, the thumbscrew, and the iron maiden without damaging their bodies, then this would not be torture either. Something must be wrong with this definition. It makes as much sense to me as, pardon the crudity, defining sex in a way that excludes blowjobs.

SlagleRock said...

Well, if I understand it correctly, the whole issue here is that waterboarding engages the gagging reflex, which causes panic. At that point, you're not able to rationally step back and think, "OK, I know this sucks, but it's not really going to cause me any harm." When I was in boot camp (USMC), we had to spend a few minutes inside a tent filled with tear gas. It was pretty unpleasant. But a few guys, for some reason, panicked and ran out. They were brought back in, and ran back out again. They finally had to be held down in the tent. They knew (because we had been lectured on it beforehand) that inhaling tear gas for a few minutes wouldn't really cause them damage, but they weren't able to act on that information. Similarly, when your gagging reflex is in full throttle, one isn't able to realize that it isn't going to cause any damage. So I'm not impressed by the difference between someone who "knows" they're not really going to get hurt and someone who doesn't.

But this may actually supply a counter-argument: if something induces an extremely unpleasant physical sensation, combined with an extraordinary panic of imminent death, shouldn't it be classified as torture? John McCain said waterboarding amounts to a mock execution. Again, I'm torn.

Jim Lippard said...

I think Victor is correct to distinguish the training circumstance (as done in SERE) from the interrogation circumstance by noting that in the former, you've given informed consent, you know that you will not be allowed to come to serious harm, that it will come to an end and that you'll be taken care of. The reason it's used for training is that it is a *real* technique with a very strong effect--such that a 2005 ABC News story said that CIA Officers subjected to it last an average of 18 seconds before begging for it to stop.

steve said...

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2007/11/another-reply-to-lippard-reppert.html

SlagleRock said...

Well, without meaning to defend waterboarding, I disagree. When we asked the guys who ran out of the tear gas tent why they did so, they said because they thought they were dying. When we asked them why they thought that after being told that it wouldn't really hurt them, much less kill them, they simply said that, whatever they had been told, as soon as they took a whiff of tear gas, they only had room in their minds for one thought: I'm dying. I expect that's just how panic works. Perhaps if they had been able to take a step back, they could have countered it, but the whole point in such a procedure is that it doesn't give you room to step back. Whatever you know going into it, you're not able to process such knowledge during the panic.