They Tried It at Home

Yochi Dreazen reports for the Wall Street Journal that three young men in New Mexico tried out waterboarding to see if it is torture.

In a nutshell, these three guys were debating whether waterboarding is torture, and one of them suggested they try it out to see. So they filled a 2-liter Coke bottle with water, grabbed a small towel, and headed out to the desert. Then one guy was tied down while another guy poured water on his face. The third guy, I assume, made the video.

Mr. Larroque, who will move to Uganda in February to begin his Peace Corps work, says it was clear from the beginning that he would be the one waterboarded. Mr. Toulouse, who is studying psychology in Canada, didn’t want to be the subject. Mr. Gaspar, who works as a waiter in Albuquerque, participated reluctantly.

“I just didn’t like the idea of waterboarding my best friend,” Mr. Gaspar says. “It seemed a little outside the realm of Saturday-night antics.”

That left the question of where to do the waterboarding. Mr. Larroque, who wanted to film the experiment, proposed doing it in Mr. Gaspar’s house, where the lighting would be best. Mr. Gaspar vetoed the idea. “My fiancée would be a little unhappy with me if she found a huge puddle of water in the house with Jean-Pierre passed out next to it,” he recalls reasoning.

They all survived.

18 thoughts on “They Tried It at Home

  1. In any governement in the police branches, there are going to be sadists who get their kicks from torture. I never thought the American public would accept it. The mainstream popularity of torture is one of the most frightening aspects of the current political scene. The silver lining is (hopefully) neither of the candidates for president will sanction it. The argument will then focus on whether the current administration will be held to account for it.

  2. Hey, I think you and your readers would really enjoy Blue State. It’s a new movie coming out on DVD this month starring Breckin Meyer as this super-liberal guy working on the 2004 Kerry campaign. He makes a drunken bet that if Bush wins the election, he’ll move to Canada — and we all know what happened in that one. It also stars Anna Paquin (of X-men fame) = check it out!

  3. As with all such ‘tests’, it missed a particularly horrifying part – not being able to stop it. The young man knew he was with friends and could quit if he wanted to. And he did. So, while he came away with an awful experience, which he considers ‘torture 2.0’, he missed the involuntary component. In other words, as bad as he thought it was, in reality it’s worse.

    Still, rather than have this be a pointless exercise, maybe we get these guys a meeting with Mukasey? Perhaps they could convince him to label it torture at last.

  4. I believe in the Geneva Conventions. Not only are they humane, but they also protect our troops if they are ever captured. I am sorry that our gov’t has been so disingenuous re: torture.

    But remember, a whole lot of Naval Aviators and Navy aircrew attended SERE (Survival, Escape, Resist, Escape) training in the 1960s and were subjected to waterboarding.

  5. How sad and even tragic that this country has surrendered what has through the centuries been its uniqueness in the world – a place where the oppressed could find freedom, where the victim could find justice, where people would be treated with dignity.
    We argue only the legality of waterboarding while the pain it inflicts, the indignity its subjects suffer are of no consequence.

  6. If they want to use this as an example of how waterboarding is torture, they’ve failed. It just looks like what it is: drunk guys having a Jackass-style laugh on a Saturday night. The guy isn’t tied down as you said, he’s just lying on his hands. He doesn’t look at all like he’s endured an awful experience, torture ‘2.0.’ He’s grinning afterward for God’s sake.

  7. When Americans secretly abduct and torture local and regional Muslims, they are not as genteel as 2 friends who were reluctant to waterboard the guy in the first place.

    Could you imagine how bad we may be viewed by 1 billion Muslims? When Americans unilaterally and electively invade a Muslim country because a cabal of right-wing ideologues from the pro-Israeli Defense Policy Board (Wolfowitz, Pearle, etc) lied America into thinking they under imminent, nuclear attack! What a bunch of fools we are….

  8. What would you do in this case?: On September 8, 2001 you learn that a group of terrorists is planning in three days to set off a massive explosion in a US city that could murder thousands of people. As it happens, you have one of the gang in your custody. Despite your persistent and demanding interrogation, he refuses to provide the information you need to stop the planned attack. Do you resort to your less polite means of extracting the necessary information from him or do you simply hope for the best?
    No question waterboarding is an abusive and repulsive interrogation technique. It should only be considered in extreme cases and under careful supervision. However, in an extreme case, it seems to me that it or an interrogation method equally repulsive may be justified in the public defense.

  9. Why the need to debate if water boarding is torture? Isn’t it obvious that it is? It’s strange how so much attention is focused on water boarding but we seemed to have overlooked stress positioning and the use of temperature extremes as a means of extracting information( torture).Not to mention the purposeful destruction of the human mind by methods of continuous sound, light and sleep deprivation. No matter how you label’s all torture.

  10. Pingback: Simply Not A Good Idea « The Krile Files

  11. Mike –

    My point in #1 is that you can’t authorize torture becase there are bigots and sadists in positions of authortiy in police forces in any country who would think the authority to use ‘harsh’ techniques is a wink-nod request to do whatever – just don’t get caught with the body (or bodies). This mindset set the stage for the atrocities at Abu Gareb. You can not ever legalize torture. EVER!!!!

    Regarding your hypothetical, which has never happened (but waterboarding has). If I was the police chief of a major city and I was certain I was in that situation, I would conduct torture myself knowing it might only cost me my job if I was right and I saved the city, and I would go to jail for a long time if I was wrong (and there was no bomb). You need to be that certain – and you have to be willing to take the hit personally. Otherwise torture will become a casual game played by sickos in uniforms.

  12. Mike, are you serious in asking that question?

    First, how do I know I have one of the gang, and how do I know their plans? How do I know I don’t have some crazy person, or someone who is trying to get me to massively mobilize resources, or panic an American city, with no more ability to enact an attack than my cat? Many similar thought experiments seem to postulate a sort of perfect knowledge that I find implausible. How is it that I’d have certainty that this was the guy who could tell me, yet not already know or be able to find out where they were planning to attack or have a more reliable way of getting the info?

    Because, second, he might just lie to me under torture, and tell me what he figured I wanted to hear, and I might not end up saving anyone. In your scenario, I’d be torturing him to find out where they were planning on setting off a massive explosion somewhere. Had my prisoner told me there was a bomb somewhere, even in the World Trade Center, we’d have believed him and scrambled cops to search. Maybe he would have given me the names of innocents (perhaps enemies or rivals of his) as part of his cell, and we’d have spent time rounding them up and torturing them. But on Sept. 11, they’d have hijacked airplanes and crashed them. There was no bomb. Looking for a bomb in New York instead of hijackers in Boston could easily have been the result of your hypothetical torture session. The 9/11 technique took advantage of short flight times following the hijacking, and the assumption that hijackers wouldn’t kill themselves. Torture wouldn’t have helped us stop it. It might have made it worse.

    Torture is NOT a “less polite means of extracting the information”, it’s a reprehensible, abusive means of inflicting pain and getting absolutely no trustworthy information whatever. The alternative is not to “simply hope for the best”, but to use more reliable interrogation methods, and other investigative techniques, while maintaining one’s membership in the ranks of civilized human beings.

    Still, in the gedanken-welt where it would happen as you say, and if, despite the numerous reasons why it would be stupid and an enormous unreliable gamble, I found myself using waterboarding, then afterward I would expect to turn myself over to the legal authorities, confess, and be punished to the full extent of the law. I would know I was guilty of a crime, whatever my good intentions. In a system of laws, that has consequences. I would hope that, perhaps, serving my long sentence might help me expiate my shame and self-loathing for having committed such a heinous and illegal deed, no matter how many (if any) were saved. I might have gotten useful information, but I’d have had no way to know that I would, so there could be no way that it would forgive my motive in torturing my prisoner.

    Torture is an immoral and illegal act. It is also remarkably unreliable. Various versions of the ‘ticking time bomb’ fantasy may enable some to blur their awareness of all that, but it is nonetheless true.

    I would not ordinarily bother making all these arguments at length, since they should be obvious. Sadly, since so many insist on repeating a ‘time bomb’ justification, it is part of my patriotic duty to insist on knocking it down, every time I see it, for as long as it takes until we Americans regain our moral compass.

  13. What would you do in this case?

    I’d use the techniques the professional interregators use, not one which was designed to get false confessions (used for that purpose by the Spanish Inquisition, the Soviets, the witch trials, and so on). Hint: “24” is not a documentary.

  14. biggerbox: Excellent answer and much better than what I had in mind to write.

    QrazyQat: Also a good answer.

  15. Comment by Mike — January 31, 2008 @ 4:46 pm

    I think I’d ignore numerous warnings from foreign intelligence agents, stay on vacation for a month, sneer “Alright, you’ve covered your ass” when the CIA delivers a report on a potential attack, sit like a deer in the headlights for seven minutes reading a children’s book upon being told of the attack, fly around the country and hide for the day, and watch my Vice President stand down the USAF while more hijacked planes crashed. I’d allow the lead terrorist’s relatives to leave the country unquestioned because I was cronies with their country’s dictatorial ruler.
    I’d make half-assed attempts to catch the terrorists, but then gin up a bullshit threat and divert most of my resources into invading a different country that had nothing to do with it, because I didn’t like their ruler.
    I’d use the attack as an excuse to implement torture and massive warrantless spying on Americans and place myself and my Vice President above the law and exempt from any scrutiny or oversight in violation of the Constitution.
    And if I were a Republican, masses of my party’s drooling followers like Mike would make excuses for all of my egregious screwups and I’d be wildly popular.

  16. tech9803… Sounds like a plan to me.. The plan’s only weakness is that you didn’t bestow an authoritative name upon yourself.. Like maybe.. The Decider, or the Commander Guy..Just a little something to let people know that you have it all under control.

  17. tech9803,

    You’ll need a flight suit; one with a codpiece already installed will, I hear, be on sale after January of next year. Only problem… slight urine stain where the Depends leaked during the landing. You’ll hardly notice it.

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