A throw-away remark, with link, in an article on Slate.com Thursday lead me to a documentary video podcast that was on Current.TV, that's available on their website. Interestingly enough, here's the thing that I noticed about it: it's a video meant to under-cut the Bush administration's stance on torture, but in one regard, it actually strengthens the Bush administration's case. The video I'm talking about is called "Getting Waterboarded." (I was going to embed it in this journal entry, but LiveJournal doesn't support Current.TV as a video source.)
In the video, Harvard post-grad student and military veteran Kaj Larsen shows us lengthy excerpts of his own voluntary waterboarding at the hands of two anonymous US Army experts on coercive interrogation, the same people who have been waterboarding suspected terrorists for the Bush administration back when (according to then White House counsel, now US Attorney General, Alberto Gonzalez) it was supposedly "legal" for them to do so. Over parts of it we get picture-in-picture interviews with various civil libertarians and human rights campaigners who argue that there is no way to call waterboarding anything other than torture, and its use under any circumstance anything less than both a violation of US law and a crime against humanity.
But here's the part of it that interested me. Before the interrogators start in on him, Kaj Larsen mentions that he underwent waterboarding as part of his training in the military. And that he only lasted about two minutes, which is what the professional interrogators said they would expect, namely, that almost nobody lasts more than 2 minutes. Even though they show, in the video, that it is physically impossible for any of the water to make it into the lungs, and that some air makes it into the lungs at all times, the physical sensation is identical to that of the lungs filling up with water and being unable to draw in air; people panic and give in after no longer than they can normally hold their breath. But in this video, Kaj Larsen more or less effortlessly lasts for 22 minutes, eleven times longer than is normal. (The video above is only a smidgen over 10 minutes, but if you doubt that 22 minute number, the uncut version is also available on Current.TV's website, as a link off of the page linked above.) And while the video does a pretty good job of demonstrating that this is in fact torture, that he was in pretty severe pain and that he felt like he was going to die that whole 22 minutes, and therefore does a pretty good job of disproving the Bush administration's argument that if it isn't causing serious physical injury it can't be torture? It also, by the fact that it goes on for 22 minutes demonstrates exactly why the Bush administration wants to screw over Jose Padilla, and the supposed al Qaeda 14 down at Guantanamo Bay.
Some of you may remember me head-desking over one of the Bush administration's claims in the Jose Padilla case. One of their motions to suppress any kind of a civilian trial for Jose Padilla was that it was impossible to prove, for example, anything regarding his claim to have been tortured while in custody, without giving away secret information. What secret information? The details of his torture. But this video shows exactly why they don't want that information out there in a generally accessible form. Because it equally clearly shows that because Larsen knew the physics of waterboarding, and had had a taste of it beforehand, he only quit at the 22 minute mark because he'd taken enough abuse to prove his point. If he'd been at all motivated to do so out of patriotism, loyalty to a cause, personal loyalty to his fellow soldiers, or religious fervor, he could probably have held out indefinitely. In fact, the longer it went on, the easier it would have gotten; eventually the body would have learned that it couldn't possibly have been drowning, and the reflex would have worn out. And you can see the frustration on the part of the interrogators when, at around the 5 or 6 minute mark, they ran out of pre-filled water containers to torture him with, and were increasingly desperately having to improvise ways to keep the rag in his mouth soaked. Given that waterboarding is a torture technique that can be used in something rather akin to total safety to the victim (I wouldn't recommend it on people who were severely unfit or who already had breathing problems), if torture were at all effective at protecting this country, then all hell would break loose if the enemy were to learn how easy it was to train their operatives to withstand waterboarding.
Torture isn't effective at protecting this country. This is something that every real expert on interrogation has said, over and over and over again. Therefore it severely demeans the torturers, turns them into inhuman monsters devoid of empathy who will be turned loose on American soil once their tours of duty are over. It also demeans our nation in the eyes of every decent person in the world both here and abroad, and gives our enemies one of their most potent recruiting tools imaginable, namely proof that they're fighting an inhumanly monstrous enemy. I'll not deny that, and anybody who says otherwise is both painfully stupid and sick in the head. But I do have to say this: you can see, right here with your own eyes, why the Bush administration has gone to such great lengths to keep these technical details in the realm of Forbidden Lore.