I Waterboarded Myself

The House of Representatives just approved a bill that bans waterboarding this afternoon.

There’s been a lot of talk in the news these days about whether or not the technique is considered torture. I thought I would try it out and decide for myself:

What surprised me the most from the experience was how fast my air supply went out. I’m a swimmer and I can hold my breath for quite a while, but I had trouble lasting for even just a few moments. To what should I attribute my lack of endurance? Laying upside down and having my mouth and nostrils quickly fill up with water.
Was it torture? I rigged up the experiment so that I was in full control of the situation, but if it was an actual interrogation, the disorientation, panic, and anxiety would have certainly exasperated the experience. I also think that my captors in a real situation would be more generous with their use of water. History has proved that factor to be fatal.

How do you waterboard? There’s not a lot to the technique; you just need some water, a washcloth, and an inclined surface. I found some key points on the advocacy group Waterboard.org:

  • Keep the chest elevated above the head and neck to keep the lungs “above the waterline”.
  • Incline the head, both to keep the throat open and to present the nostrils for easier filling.
  • Force the mouth open so that water can be poured into both the nose and mouth. Saran wrap, damp cloth, or any facial covering is not essential, but sometimes used as a bonus multiplier. If someone coughs to try to blow the water out of their throat or mouth the plastic catches the water and keeps it in. The cloth or plastic also acts as a one-way valve, opening to let more air out and then closing again to prevent inhalation. Eventually you end up with collapsed, empty lungs, no ability to inhale more air, a throat, mouth, and nose that’s still full of water, and no capacity to get the water out since you’re already fully exhaled. “CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in.” (In practice, “14 seconds” is roughly the amount of time one can exhale slowly through the upturned nose. This keep the water out, temporarily. When your breath runs out the water starts flowing in.)

Here are some other people who have also experimented with waterboarding:

This video was taken at an anti-war protest. The victim lasts a long time, but notice that he’s not on a very steep inclination.

This video was made on a dare by a bunch of suburban kids. It’s pretty hardcore. They experiment with Saran wrap first and then move on to a washcloth. The victim actually breaks the board he’s on when the washcloth technique is delivered.

The Democracy Now radio program interviewed a French, waterboard victim. He describes feeling a sensation of death.

Waterboarding torture should not be confused with Chinese Water Torture. That’s something that usually goes on at teenage slumber parties.
Chinese Water Torture Video #1
Chinese Water Torture Video #2

One thought on “I Waterboarded Myself
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