Waterboarding: Historically Controversial

Video: Waterboarding Demo

Video: Waterboarding Part II

Video: Waterboarding Part III

Nov. 6, 2006
New York 2:43 p.m.


"What is it?"

"Well, somehow you've managed to get water behind your eardrum. Wait, I'll get you a model."

"See this is the middle ear. And somehow you have water here. Normally, when I see people they have wax over here and we just flush it out. But you've got water here. And the only way for it to get there would have been for it to somehow go around all these tubes from the nose or the mouth."

"I was waterboarding."

"What's that?"

"It's a form of torture where they pour water on you and hold you down."

"They actually hold you down on a board?"


"That's a very interesting story."

Nov. 6, 2006
Level C1 11:52 a.m.

Fein: Why the orange jumpsuit?

SH: Major Bevelacqua said orange is reserved for the most violent offenders. It also lets everyone in the room know who the bad guy is in case there is a break.

Fein: It looks like you put up a struggle during Level Two.

SH: After they put the gag in. I figured that's what a prisoner would do. Also, I didn't like them having all the control. But it was short-lived.

F: Why a hand to the sternum?

SH: Hand to the sternum made it so I couldn't catch a breath. I also felt them start to get excited. I told Maj. Bob I wanted to get in one shot at him, but I’m not sure he heard me through the cloth.

F: They told you to stop saying Saran wrap?

SH: Yes. Some guy told me he spent an hour blurring out the Glad label. I started saying plastic wrap. That was probably the worst moment, when I saw him tear off the plastic wrap. Your whole life they tell you never put your face in plastic wrap, then here's this guy over me tearing off a sheet to wrap around my face. I know Maj. Bob knows what he’s doing, but anyone can make a mistake.

F: So Level Two was the gag and Three was the wrap? Doesn't the water just flow off the wrap?

SH: They punch a hole with a pen in the wrap just over your mouth. Then, they pour the water through that hole. So when you try to get air, you get water and when you suck in hard, you get plastic wrap in your throat. When I felt the plastic in my mouth I panicked.

F: How did you feel afterward?

SH: Fine, excited, glad it was over, sinuses all cleared up. Got water in one ear now.

F: Did you try vinegar?

SH: No.

November 3, 2006
D.C. 9:20 p.m.

There are a lot of questions about waterboarding. First of all, how to spell it — as one word or with a hyphen?

It hit the news this week, but it has been in use since the Middle Ages, through World War II and Vietnam. Yet, despite its history, there are questions about waterboarding — What is it? Is it torture? And is it effective?

Some U.S. personnel have been trained in waterboarding in order to resist it as a form of interrogation. One told me that it is the fear of pain and the fear of drowning that make it more effective than enduring actual pain.

There are reports that waterboarding was used in the interrogation of 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. There are reports he held out two and a half minutes. There are reports that two and a half minutes is considered, by some interrogators, to be a remarkable length of time to endure waterboarding. The average endurance during training of interrogators has been reported as just 14 seconds. Of course, waterboarding is a broad term, and there are a range of techniques with varying degrees of intensity. More about those techniques in the days to come.

November 3, 2006
D.C., 14th St. Bridge 8:12 a.m.

The logical move before waterboarding would be to eat lightly, or not at all. But logic might not be the right approach to waterboarding. I went with eggs benedict, coffee, orange juice and berries with creme fraiche. The waitress brought the berries first, but I decided to hold them until after the eggs, which was a good move. The creme fraiche was excellent. I could have eaten a second tureenful.

November 2, 2006
Baltimore 4:26 p.m.

"What is it called?"


"Waterboarding or mortarboarding?"

"Water. W-a-t-e-r."

"What is mortarboarding?"

"You know what a mortarboard is?"

"No, I don't."

"A mortarboard is the thing you wear at graduation, the square hat."

"So, you have the tassel on the left before you get waterboarded?"

"Right. Then, you move it to the other side after you're done."

E-mail Harrigan

"I have been following your segments on waterboarding on FOX News and must say that they have been very informing and awakening. Facing such water torture tactics for the purpose of the segments from people you know seems scary enough; I can only imagine what it must be like to suffer such torture from actual captors and in truly terrifying conditions!" — Ranil

"I think this is THE money question in this whole exercise: If you were waterboarded by enemy captors, would the process make you more likely to tell them the truth, or to lie, or to stay silent?" — Karen (Wisconsin)

"We should make sure we know that the one we are going to torture is someone who knows something we need. (Remember the worker ant doesn't know anything, he just does what he is told, and that is about 85% of the people captured on the battlefield)." John (Gulfport, MS)

"The thing I never read or hear about, in regards to the use of waterboarding to get information, is that, I assume, the person could avoid the whole process by talking...telling the interviewers what they want to know; and if this leads to preventing a terroist act, which it apparently has, then it would seem the far lesser evil." — Cynthia (Happy Valley, OR)

"Saddam’s victims remain either dead or permanently disfigured and in pain. To apply the word torture to your treatment allows others to make the argument that both treatments are ‘equally evil’. I would like you to comment on that." — Cos (Okarche, OK)

"I attended the Military Intelligence Officers' Course in 1971 at Fort Huachuca which included a section on interrogation from both sides of the fence. Waterboarding was part of the curriculum. It was very effective, and I recall the discomfort and sense of panic as I endured the process. I never feared for my life, but a real interrogation subject might well. However, I would not call it torture. I would equate that term with being hooked up to the battery charger, serous beatings or worse, such as being strapped into a dental chair with the instruments lying out or seeing pipe cutters or similar instruments on the table. Waterboarding, properly administered, is a psychological tool more than a physical one." — Michael (Milford, OH)

"I am not opposed to it, but I don't feel the American public has any reason to view this type of torture. I know there are a lot of Liberals who oppose this procedure, but I feel we need to do whatever is necessary to get the terrorist to give us information, I just don't feel I need to
witness the procedure."

"The truth is, I really don't think Americans or Europeans are up to the task of defeating these terrorists. We are weak and wimpy and too interested in eating well and having a good time, and in protecting the rights of the very people who will probably do away with us." — Charles

"You could have them stand in one place for a long time like in holiday shopping or sleep deprevation like a mom with a new baby. Ooooh now that's scary!" Robert (Texas)

"I had never heard of such a process, and your visual presentation was very educational. Maybe you didn't need a morale booster, but surely we all appreciate a pat on the back now and then. Consider this a big pat on the back. Good Job!" — Alison

"Thank you for your courage in demystifying a useful interrogation tool. Many of our military undergo the techniques, themselves, in training. You made it clear that it isn't inhumane, yet effectively terrifying." — Gary

When I was a kid in the '60s and Vietnam was going on, I had already seen photos of National Guardsmen using water torture on a Filipino prisoner in the early 1900s. The book was in my library back then when I lived in Brooklyn, NY. The photos should still be around and in older books about the occupation of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War. — (Gerard, Albuquerque, NM)

"I have to say that when someone can get the image of people holding hands and jumping out of
a 110-story building to escape burning to death, talk to me about waterboarding. Can't even imagine that level of fear, and if that method stops that from happening again, then perhaps it is the lesser of two evils." — Donna