As Congress has debated legislation that would set up military tribunals and govern the questioning of suspected terrorists (whom the Bush administration would like to be able to detain indefinitely), at issue has been what interrogation techniques can be employed and whether information obtained during torture can be used against those deemed unlawful enemy combatants. One interrogation practice central to this debate is waterboarding. It’s usually described in the media in a matter-of-fact manner. The Washington Post simply referred to waterboarding a few days ago as an interrogation measure that “simulates drowning.” But what does waterboarding look like?
You can see here. Jonah Blank, an anthropologist and foreign policy adviser to the Democratic staff of the US Senate, was in Cambodia last month and came across an actual waterboard at a former prison turned into a museum that chronicles the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime. Blank took photos of the waterboard and a painting depicting its use. I cannot post photos in this space, but I’ve published his photos on my own blog at www.davidcorn.com.
Go there for Blank’s photos and commentary. As he notes,
These photos are important because most of us have never seen an actual, real-life waterboard. The press typically describes it in the most anodyne ways: a device meant to “simulate drowning” or to “make the prisoner believe he might drown.” But the Khymer Rouge were no jokesters, and they didn’t tailor their abuse to the dictates of the Geneva Convention. They–like so many brutal regimes–made waterboarding one of their primary tools for a simple reason: it is one of the most viciously effective forms of torture ever devised.
Legislation backed by Bush and congressional Republicans would Congressional would explicitly permit the use of evidence obtained through waterboarding and other forms of torture. Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and other top al Qaeda leaders have reportedly been subjected to this technique. They would certainly note–or try to note–that at any trial. But with this legislation, the White House is seeking to declare the use of waterboarding (at least in the past) as a legitimate practice of the US government.
The House of Representatives voted for Bush’s bill on Thursday, 253 to 168 (with 34 Democrats siding with the president and only seven Republicans breaking with their party’s leader). The Senate is expected to vote on the bill today. Its members should consider Blank’s photos and arguments before they, too, go off the deep end.
INFO ON HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR: Tom Brokaw says “Hubris, the new best-seller by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq.” Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, “The selling of Bush’s Iraq debacle is one of the most important–and appalling–stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it.” For more information on Hubris, click here.