Many of the readers who responded to my column about waterboarding, both in Hit & Run comments and in email via Townhall, have noted that American servicemen are subjected to the technique as part of their training to resist interrogation. How bad can it be, these readers asked, if we do it to our own men? For a rebuttal, I turn to Rudy Giuliani, who had this to say when asked whether waterboarding is torture:
It depends on how it's done. It depends on the circumstances. It depends on who does it.
Giuliani's comments were widely ridiculed by critics of the Bush administration's interrogation methods, who (probably correctly) interpreted him as saying that torture is not torture when it's done by the good guys. But in a sense Giuliani was right: If you are waterboarded as part of your military training, you know you will survive and won't be permanently harmed. If you are waterboarded by captors, you can never be sure you won't actually be drowned to death, either intentionally or by accident. That fear is a big component of the technique's persuasive power. As I noted in my column, the statutory definition of torture covers methods aimed at causing "severe mental pain or suffering" through "the threat of imminent death."
Giuliani's military adviser, Adm. Robert J. Natter, ignores this distinction when he says:
Is waterboarding torture? I don't know. I was waterboarded as part of my military training, and I would say that it falls into a gray area.
That "gray area" surely does not extend to a context in which you're being held against your will by people who view you as a mortal enemy.