Civil Liberties

Giuliani Was Right: It Does Depend on Who Does It

|

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.

NEXT: Sex and the City: Not an Economics Textbook!

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Maybe Ghouliani should volunteer to be waterboarded to show that it’s not inhumane. I want to hold the hose.

  2. No sage. Giuliani should be kidnapped, blindfolded, flown to Egypt and waterboarded against his will by mean looking brown men who don’t speak much English for a period not lasting less than three weeks. Then ask him if it’s torture.

  3. DONDEROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

    Cue Awik in 5…4…3…2…

  4. Come on, all he means is that fanatical terrorists who think the US is the Great Satan should just realize that we are very humane with our prisoners and that we would never let them drown under waterboarding. We only kill our own citizens, during drug raids.

  5. Is it torture?

    The answer is “it depends on if it is proportional to the value of information you reasonably expect to receive.”

    No offense, but most answers other than that are ill conceived, including “yes” and “no.”

  6. we are very humane with our prisoners and that we would never let them drown under waterboarding. We only kill our own citizens, during drug raids.

    supposedly sarcasm, but more than a little bit true.

  7. I’m unfamiliar with the process, so I cannot comment on it with any certainty. But I have an idea: how’s about one of the commenters here–one who is dead set against it without any firsthand knowledge of it–volunteer to have it done to him, then get back to us. I’m serious. It would be instructive, firsthand reportage instead of secondhand parroting. And yes, since I came up with the idea, I exempt myself from the test.

  8. This is ridiculous – the torture question obviously pivots on consent.

    Some people pay to be gagged and whipped for sexual gratification – does that mean it’s not torture when it is done against someone’s will?

  9. Yeesh. The “our service members undergo waterboarding so it can’t be torture” argument is the easiest one for libertarians to rebut. The difference between SERE waterboarding and Gitmo waterboarding is exactly the difference between voluntary and coerced activity. This is a distinction anyone who claims to be libertarian (big or small l) should recognize instinctively.

  10. Military personnel are waterboarded TO TRAIN THEM TO SURVIVE TORTURE.

    I suspose tying people to trees isn’t captivity, because that happens in SERE training, too.

  11. Yeesh. The “our service members undergo waterboarding so it can’t be torture” argument is the easiest one for libertarians to rebut. The difference between SERE waterboarding and Gitmo waterboarding is exactly the difference between voluntary and coerced activity. This is a distinction anyone who claims to be libertarian (big or small l) should recognize instinctively.

    Is coercion really the key? If the prisoner does not agree to submit to simple questioning, does that make it torture?

  12. Is coercion really the key? If the prisoner does not agree to submit to simple questioning, does that make it torture?

    Nope. Coercion is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for it to be torture.

  13. “Is coercion really the key? If the prisoner does not agree to submit to simple questioning, does that make it torture?”

    For that matter, what prisoner freely submits to captivity?

  14. Before any of you “persuade the captives with milk and cookies” types bring up Japanese convictions after WWII for the “water cure” you should look at this recent comment in H&R.

  15. Military personnel are waterboarded TO TRAIN THEM TO SURVIVE TORTURE.

    I suspose tying people to trees isn’t captivity, because that happens in SERE training, too.

    joe, I think someone is posting in your name.

  16. Is coercion really the key? If the prisoner does not agree to submit to simple questioning, does that make it torture?

    With this crowd, yes.

  17. Guy Montag: objectively pro-al Libi.

  18. As the President is Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, shouldn’t waterboarding be part of the training for the job?

    “Recruits Clinton and Guiliani – over here!

    “You may be taken prisoner by a hostile Congress, so as part of your training….”

  19. “””””I’m unfamiliar with the process, so I cannot comment on it with any certainty.”””””

    Google it.

    But don’t try claiming you can’t know about something unless you directly experience it. If you truly believe that, take a fork, bend then middle prongs and stick the two remaining prongs in an electrical outlet. Don’t try giving me crap about how it will shock you, by your own philosophy, you wouldn’t know.

  20. Guy Montag,

    I’m not quite sure why making something “less dangerous” makes it less of an issue of torture. Does the individual undergoing the technique know that it is “less dangerous?” They are still roughly the same techniques and they are both presumably used as a means to make you think that you are about die or may die as a means to get you to talk.

    On another point, how the heck does anyone actually know whether it is indeed a rarely used technique?

  21. For Rudy to prove his point, he should allow someone to waterboard him until he explains why he move his emergency command center to a known terrorist target.

  22. To beat a dead horse…

    You guys have the logic I’m using backward apparently. I’m not saying coercion implies torture. My argument is:
    Torture implies there was coercion.
    Therefor, applying the contrapositive,
    there was no coercion implies no torture.
    Therefor, you cannot use the argument that volunatary SERE waterboarding is not torture to prove that coerced Gitmo waterboarding is also not torture. You have to show some other condition that implies torture occurred isn’t presnet to prove Gitmo waterboarding doesn’t count.

    I really can’t believe I have to spell it out.

  23. “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.”

    By that standard anything you do to the guy is torture. IF you really think your captors are going to kill you, just walking into the room will scare the hell out of you. I would be curious to see what Sullum thinks isn’t torture other than asking them nicely? That might be great but I seriously doubt you are going to get many answers that way.

  24. joe, Oops, I missed the sarcasm bit. It’s difficult to detect in a post sometimes.

  25. What compels a person who supports drug legalization to endorse a presidential candidate who’s a blatant drug warrior (who probably also wouldn’t mind seeing drug suspects tortured because they apparently support terrorism as well)? Oh, wait, I forgot, tax cuts.

  26. It seems pretty clear that waterboarding is torture. That being said, I would rather be waterboarded for a week than pay income tax or social security. That would seem to make those torture as well, Heck, they could even add some sleep deprivation, contusions and music I don’t like if they would give me a pass on that tax thing.

    I suppose the lefties would make the argument much like the current administration that it is for the good of society so it can’t be torture.

    Actually I think the Bushites missed a really good one. They could claim that the terrorists (or other folk that they find just plain annoying) are being tortured, but as they have a “social contract” with us. They have given their consent and it is all OK.

  27. Guy Montag: objectively pro-al Libi.

    Guy Montag: another fake libertarian.

  28. Boy, I’m fuckin’ up today, that was me.

  29. Where’s Agent Hubbard when we need him?

    Come on General, you’ve lost men, I’ve lost men, but you – you, you *can’t* do this! What, what if they don’t even want the sheik, have you considered that? What if what they really want is for us to herd our children into stadiums like we’re doing? And put soldiers on the street and have Americans looking over their shoulders? Bend the law, shred the Constitution just a little bit? Because if we torture him, General, we do that and everything we have fought, and bled, and died for is over. And they’ve won. They’ve already won!

  30. good that someone pointed out the SERE issue

    People who undergo SERE training are by definition a tiny fraction of the most elite forces in the US = SEALS, AF forward air controllers, Combat Search and Rescue teams, marine force recon & STA snipers, etc. ‘Torture training’ is reserved for a extremely small percentage of US forces who volunteer for the riskiest, most demanding services.

    What does this have to do with the US using torture practices against ‘suspected’ enemy forces? very little. It certainly doesnt excuse it to any degree. Its using an isolated case where we train people to survive extraordinary abuse, to saying that our employment of extraordinary abuse is somehow ‘reasonable’

    It basically rejects the letter of all the existing US service Field Manuals, the UCMJ, the Geneva conventions, and almost 100yrs of tradition in the military. (excepting our torture of insurgents during the Spanish-American war in the Philippenes, where the ‘water cure’ was also applied, albeit more vigorously – many were killed in the process) The reason we specifically BANNED this procedure by US military is because we had done it before… to the lasting detriment to the honor of our armed forces, and our reputation in the world. We HAD learned a lesson, and now we choose to conveniently forget it, for reasons more political than practical. Ask experts in torture & coercion and they will tell you there’s 1000 ways to skin a cat, and more often than not, simple isolation and psychological conditioning (offering rewards for cooperation) work more effectively over time. It’s not quick and easy, but it tends to work better. Anyone will confess something/anything on the rack, but that doesnt necessarily equate to intelligence value, nor does it do much to convince the prisoner to give up their co-conspirators.

    Guy Fawlkes aside of course.

  31. On another point, how the heck does anyone actually know whether it is indeed a rarely used technique?

    The only reason we know it was used at all is from our ‘super secret’ government revealing it and who it was used on.

    Now we just have to wait for the Rove element to kick in on this thread and tell us how the admission was just a big trick to hide something even “worse” and to keep President Bush in the White House beyond the end of this term of office . . .

  32. If you are waterboarded as part of your military training, you know you will survive and won’t be permanently harmed.

    And that it will end.

  33. Guy,

    The admission was just a big trick to hide something even “worse” and to keep President Bush in the White House beyond the end of this term of office . . .

  34. If you are waterboarded as part of your military training, you know you will survive and won’t be permanently harmed.

    Yea, brcause nobody is injured or killed in military training, right Mr. Smartie?

  35. Guy Montag,

    I don’t have to talk about Karl Rove. The U.S. government has a very long practice of keeping secret things which are offensive to liberty. I need only mention the use of American citizens as unknowing guinea pigs in various radiation, nuclear, etc. experiments.

  36. Guy Montag,

    Check out this particular work some time.

  37. God, what a bunch of soulless tapeworms are the people who want to rule us.

    And yet, people keep voting for them.

  38. For all you fools who want to think water boarding is not torture, or want to think its not torture if you know it aint going to kill you, perhaps you should google the name of Daniel Levin. Or see Oberman’s commentary here: http://www.alternet.org/blogs/video/67043/

    Levin was Justice Dept. official who had himself water boarded by friendly troops so he could, indeed, find out for himself what is was like. His conclusion: definitely torture, no matter what you know, because no amount of rational thinking can stop the body’s reflexive fear of drowning. Levin’s reward for this was to be fired, of course.

    “But Hitler did some wonderful things, and we really didnt know about the jews….”

    Skallagrim

  39. Do you have a link to the actual Justice Department report? I heard from a reliable reporter that Levin did not conclude that it absolutly was torture.

    I have that same feeling about this that I had about the Joe Wilson IV New York Times piece by him. Know what? The Congressional report about what he reported after his trip to Niger is pretty much the opposite of what he wrote for the Times.

    Same deal with Tne New Republic, claiming all of the PV1 Beauchamp stories are completly true, except for one minor detail and that the Army was pressuring him to lie and that he never recanted his stories. Granted, he never “recanted” he only made sworn statements that he never witnessed what he said he witnessed. Also, Beauchamps editors are quoted in a transcript telling Beauchamp that if he recans his story his wife’s job would be in danger, along with telling him that he would never write again anyway.

    Which edition of Newspeak are you people using now anyway?

    So, please, instead of quoting the Left’s version of Pat Buchanan, how about posting an actual link to the report that you are talking about, k?

  40. Well let’s see what master SERE instructor Malcom Nance has to say on the subject:

    As a former master instructor and chief of training at the U.S. Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School (SERE) in San Diego, I know the waterboard personally and intimately. Our staff was required to undergo the waterboard at its fullest. I was no exception.

    I have personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people. It has been reported that both the Army and Navy SERE school’s interrogation manuals were used to form the interrogation techniques employed by the Army and the CIA for its terror suspects. What is less frequently reported is that our training was designed to show how an evil totalitarian enemy would use torture at the slightest whim.
    Having been subjected to this technique, I can say: It is risky but not entirely dangerous when applied in training for a very short period. However, when performed on an unsuspecting prisoner, waterboarding is a torture technique – without a doubt. There is no way to sugarcoat it.

    In the media, waterboarding is called “simulated drowning,” but that’s a misnomer. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning.

    Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.

    How much of this the victim is to endure depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim’s face) and the obstinacy of the subject. A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs that show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience, to horrific suffocating punishment to the final death spiral.

    Waterboarding is slow-motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of blackout and expiration. Usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch. If it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia – meaning, the loss of all oxygen to the cells.

    The lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threatened with its use again and again. Call it “Chinese water torture,” “the barrel,” or “the waterfall.” It is all the same.

    One has to overcome basic human decency to endure causing the effects. The brutality would force you into a personal moral dilemma between humanity and hatred. It would leave you questioning the meaning of what it is to be an American.

    So hopefully we’ll put this silly debate to bed once and for all. These hearings have the air of John Gotti explaining, with an earnest expression on his face, how he really isn’t a criminal, but a community leader. It’s a bullshit act that shouldn’t fool anyone with an ounce of critical thinking skills.

  41. Uh, American servicefolk also have to endure a certain amount of time in a “gas chamber” full of tear gas. If you did that to prisoners, you’d have to be a moron of Lou Dobbs proportions to conclude that that wasn’t torture. So, the “we do it to our servicefolk” argument doesn’t cut the mustard.

  42. tarran,

    Awsome1 I love that quote! That is “torture” I can get down with!

    Rimfax, perhaps you are unaware that choking agents (“tear gas”) are perfectly “legal” to use in riot control, domestic situations, but not in certain international situations? Yet another interesting quirk of the Laws of Sea and Land War.

    Yes, as I predicted, the “question them with milk and cookies” have shown themselves as the same “mom he’s looking at me” folk who are of the school that we have just not talked to the terrorists long enough to persuade them to stop sawing our heads off in retaliation for ugly chicks pointing at their groins.

    Thank you pacifists, thank you so much for the entertainment.

  43. Yes, I will go on record as saying TOO BAD THEY STOPPED WATERBOARDING THREE PEOPLE OF THE WHOLE WORLD FOUR FREAKING YEARS AGO so you people could have something ‘real’ to whine about.

    Kinda missing the outrage of sawing the heads of Americans off here. Is that fine because we are bad and the innocent savages are good? Was that just a big Karl Rove fake thingie or was it real? Was it retaliation for waterboarding? Abu Grabe? Not giving detainees chocolates and roses? Beuhler? Beuhler? Anybody?

  44. Hear that everyone? Guy said the government told him they only waterboarded 3 people, so there’s nothing to worry about. What possible reason could you have for distrusting the government?

    Guy, I also enjoyed you launching into the “waterboarding is OK because The Terrorists cut off people’s heads” defence. Thanks for pointing out that the United States still has more decency than a bunch of fanatical Qu’ran-crazed savages. I will stop worrying about civil liberties until such time as beheading is a standard technique in interrogations.

  45. Guy Montag,

    How many underwent this practice is not the issue. If the U.S. is going to claim so some sort of moral highground then the number of times it has occurred doesn’t really matter if we claim that we don’t engage in torture as a government policy and this activity is indeed a method of torture.

    Whether Americans (and other nationalities) had their heads cut off is also not the issue. Those actions are despicable of course, but they aren’t the actions of my government, are they? Those folks don’t represent me.

  46. Chrissy,

    Thanks for launching into the typical misrepresentation of comments foun normally at Yhe Nation, TNR and American Conservative. Reason normally refrains from that in print, but folks like you give ‘balance’ in H&R.

  47. Samos,

    Say hi to all the AV club folks at the Student Union for me, k?

  48. Actually, guy,

    Talking to them with milk and cookies tends to work far better than drowning them. Generally, you can get the middle level guys to flip on their masters since your average terrorist is a bit of a loser who is trying to make something of their life. The FBI does it very succesfully when interrogating people who rape and murder little girls and are looking at a death sentence; often they can get a full detailed confession.

    But hey, that’s not emotionally satisfying is it? I guess feeling good must be more important to you than eliminating Al Queda as a threat.

    Yes, as I predicted, the “question them with milk and cookies” have shown themselves as the same “mom he’s looking at me” folk who are of the school that we have just not talked to the terrorists long enough to persuade them to stop sawing our heads off in retaliation for ugly chicks pointing at their groins.

    Wow. … Just wow. …

    I guess there is no point in arguing with a man of your obvious intelligence.

  49. Guy Montag,

    Is that really the best that you can muster?

  50. OT:

    Good WV v. Louisville game. Right down to the wire.

  51. It’s torture, so what. No harm done. Acute psychological distress for a little info. We are not talking about starvation and shoving bamboo strips under fingernails.

    I suppose all you kids always fought fair on the playground, right?

    Oh, thats right, none of you worthless pukes have ever been in a fight. Raised by a single mom and fed lots of soya estrogen.

    That’s not to say Rudy is not a worthless pussified fuck.

    Give me Hillary. She will make all of the stinking greaseball ragheads talk just to get her to shut her mouth.

    No
    More
    Wire
    HANGERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  52. Guy, you’re being hypocritical (and kind of an asshole, too, I gotta say). You complain…

    “Thanks for launching into the typical misrepresentation of comments foun normally at Yhe Nation, TNR and American Conservative.”

    …right after saying

    “Yes, as I predicted, the “question them with milk and cookies” have shown themselves as the same “mom he’s looking at me” folk who are of the school that we have just not talked to the terrorists long enough to persuade them to stop sawing our heads off in retaliation for ugly chicks pointing at their groins.

    Thank you pacifists, thank you so much for the entertainment.

    You make up quotes and call people pacifists who clearly aren’t, making up positions they’ve never held, and then you whine and point your finger when someone does it to you.

    That’s pretty weak, man.

  53. All Navy guys on the East Coast fleet have got to go with training at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (Gitmo) at some point in their 4-year stint.

    At Gitmo they put you in a gas chamber for 10 minutes. Of course, they give you a gas mask. But in the last 2 minutes you are required to take the gas mask off, to see how truly awful it is.

    And it is truly awful.

    Snot streaming out of your nose. Eyes watered up like the Hoover Dam. Skin irritated and red. Non-stop vomiting.

    I saw some of the toughest mother-fuckers on our ship cry like little babies after the Gitmo gas chamber.

    And I was no exception.

    Now, try to imagine if you will, those Terrorists at Gitmo having to go what we Military guys had to go through? Imagine the outcry in the media.

  54. You didn’t have to go through it, Eric. You chose to go through it. You chose to be there.

    Consent just means nothing to these people. It never enters into their thoughts, in issue after issue after issue.

  55. You know, I conducted a bunch of investigations for non-judicial punishment proceedings in the Navy, and

    1) If I had waterboarded the accused my CO would have thrown me in the brig.

    2) Somehow I was able to get to the bottom of sordid matters despite this cruel and arbitrary limit to my powers.

    Again, the most successful interrogations are ones where the interviewee feels a rapport with his interrogator and thinks there is a benefit to telling the truth. Torturing people accomplishes none of these things. That’s the thing these pro-torture morons don’t understand, yes you might glean a few nuggets of information, but you’re throwing far more useful intelligence away.

    When we torture prisoners it helps al Queda, not hurts it. Unfortunately, the pro-torture folks seem far more interested in gratifying some blood-lust than actually winning the “War on Terra’ “.

  56. It worked with Pineapple face Noriega.

    Remember, the GIs blaring heavy metal music for 24 hours at his compound to get him to surrender. He finally did. And he was quite shaken after the ordeal.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.