"The Water Torture"â€”Facsimile of a woodcut in J. DamhoudÃ¨re's Praxis Rerum Criminalium in 4to, Antwerp, 1556.
Waterboarding is a torture technique that is used in coerced interrogations or for punishment. In modern practice it produces a severe gag reflex and makes the subject believe his death is imminent, while not causing permanent or lasting physical harm. For this reasonâ€”and its reported use in the interrogation of US War on Terrorism detaineesâ€”its recognition as torture is disputed.
The modern practice of waterboarding, characterized in 2005 by former CIA director Porter J. Goss as a "professional interrogation technique", involves tying the victim to a board with the head lower than the feet so that he or she is unable to move. A piece of cloth is held tightly over the face, and water is poured onto the cloth. Breathing is extremely difficult and the victim will be in fear of imminent death by asphyxiation. Journalists Brian Ross and Richard Esposito described the CIA's waterboarding technique as follows:
The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt. According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last over two minutes before begging to confess. - Wikipedia
Below are photographs taken by Jonah Blank last month at Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The prison is now a museum that documents Khymer Rouge atrocities. Blank, an anthropologist and former Senior Editor of US News & World Report, is author of the books Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God and Mullahs on the Mainframe. He is a professorial lecturer at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and has taught at Harvard and Georgetown. He currently is a foreign policy adviser to the Democratic staff in the Senate, but the views expressed here are his own observations.