Waterboarding is Exactly As Much Fun As It Looks Like It Is

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

Current's Kaj Larsen is waterboarded.

Current's Kaj Larsen is waterboarded. Source: Current.com hide caption

itoggle caption Source: Current.com

There's been a lot of talk about what constitutes torture lately, mostly thanks to Senate confirmation hearings for the attorney general nominee, Michael Mukasey.
Mukasey calls it "repugnant ." Rudy Giuliani isn't sure what to call it. John McCain — who has something to compare it to — thinks it's torture. The Spanish Inquisition and the Khmer Rouge didn't call it anything — for them it was just day to day operations.

Kaj Larsen, a journalist for Current TV and a former Navy Seal, decided to give people a chance to decide for themselves... by having himself waterboarded on video, and making it available to anyone who wants to see what the debate is about. You can see it below — be warned, though, it's not much fun to watch. We'll talk to Kaj about his experience (believe it or not — this is the second time this guy has been waterboarded — he's a Navy SEAL), and why the technique inspires so much debate. If you want to see the video, you can see it here, at Current.com, but be warned, the images are disturbing.



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Sorry, but waterboarding or other forms of "torture" aren't the same when inflicted on volunteers. I met a Dutch woman (now in her 80s) who underwent enemas with boiling water, and cigarette burns on her breasts and genitals, vain efforts by Nazi's to force her to divulge names of others in the Dutch underground. I asked her how she could have endured such torture. I called her a hero. She kindly, but categorically, dismissed me. She said that she was convinced that she would die. She had suffered so much pain that more pain (to her) became meaningless, and what was the point of turning over the names of family and friends if she was to die anyway (as she was certain she would)? Betray people she loved and respected? Death, albeit painful, was preferable.

I don't believe that a volunteer subjecting him/herself to waterboarding, and/or any other form of torture/persuasion, to "see what it's like" can ever appreciate undergoing the same process "for real." I salute their efforts (what more can one do?), but I maintain that they haven't a clue. The only way to understand, if we can at all, would be to interview those who've survived such an experience and lived to tell about it. We need to learn from them how to uphold our beliefs and how to be brave.

[Sorry, tried to call in, but couldn't reach a phone prior to the end of your broadcast.]

Sent by Bob Courtney | 4:27 PM | 11-5-2007

If it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, acts like a duck... it must be a duck. We should think carefully about the day when our troops are subjected to this practice in the future. We're affecting the rules for everyone here...

Sent by Onies | 4:29 PM | 11-5-2007

This guy knew this was just a stunt but if he had really been with an enemy - it would have been much worse in his mind. I consider it cruel torture and probably worse when not being filmed.

Sent by Linda Starr | 7:18 PM | 11-5-2007

Got as far as the telephone screening only to get cut off by cell reception.

I went through SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) school in 1983, also in California; and can attest to waterboarding among other methods of coercing confessions. After all, the function of the school is not to teach you to resist these techniques; it is to teach you to maintain your self-respect after failing to resist. This was the greatest difficulty faced by the POWS during Vietnam. Other techniques in the news we were exposed to through experience were; claustrophobia, sleeplessness, loud noise, and stress positions. While I can assure you that none of these were pleasant, (the experience was utterly convincing my jailers all spoke Russian) all were readily survivable; and the confidence it engendered when faced with the possibility of falling into enemy hands quite reassuring.

Like my classmates, I left the school with greater confidence of surviving the experience should I face it; but like my classmates - I never lost the graduation card. I didn't want to go back.

SERE was certainly not the most physical discomfort I suffered in the Navy, the work is demanding and the environment frequently more so. So as to your primary question - is this torture. As the primary purpose of all of these techniques is psychological pressure, I would have to say no. Physical pain of itself can be surmounted, the psychological stress is much more difficult. Which is why there is a school specifically for teaching you to deal with it. If Webster is to be trusted as our guide in this case, most coercive interrogation is not torture, the physical discomfort is usually incidental to the effect the interrogator wishes to create; and since it provides focus, would be counter-productive. Waterboarding is not painful, it is terrifying. No different than playing upon a universal phobia such as fear of the dark or insects - except we all fear drowning.

Is it torture to lock a man in the dark?

Emmett Dignan

Sent by Emmett Dignan | 11:26 PM | 11-5-2007

we are a country that makes other countries adhere to rules. rules for import/export, no fly zones, no lead paint in children's toys, no nuclear facilities. the list goes on. in this video it said waterboarding is against Geneva convention. so why does the president Even consider it. the u.s. is above the rules? i think we should practice what we preach! in the case of is it torture? in a controlled environment where more than likely someone is a first responder/ cpr trained the risk of death is not likely. so i would say a person could take it to the point where the tortured person would say anything to make it stop happening. I do think it is torture. however in the hands of a u.s. interrogator i would think it to be safe. but if the person being interrogated is physically/psychologically weak i don't believe they will give true information. i do not think the u.s. should do it.

Sent by 1jobeau | 9:54 PM | 11-6-2007

Let's just admit it. Humans are mean, inventive, quick to anger, vendictive, barbaric thugs who don't mind "roughing up" someone to get the "intel" fast.
(The ends justify the means, Right?)

B@#%s&$# !
Any committed soldier, fanatic or just plain stubborn kid can endure ENORMOUS amounts of torture. Torture merely convinces the SUBJECT just how (desperate, barbaric, stupid, inhuman ....etc) the interrogator is!

It is an attempt to punish (for getting caught or accused) AND get information at the same time! It (torture) is outright stupid as a means of getting anything but REVENGE!

Sent by Harold | 2:00 PM | 11-7-2007

let me ask you...if saddam hussein had done this to american soldiers, would it have been torture? if hitler had done it to the jews, would it have been torture? if i did it to George Bush or Dick Cheney, WOULD IT BE TORTURE? if i did it to YOUR SON OR DAUGHTER, would it be TORTURE? even if !I! thought it was really necessary to KEEP THE PRICE OF MY GASOLINE DOWN? shame and punishment be on those who have endorsed this. WAR CRIMINALS. in 20 years, we will be DISGUSTED WITH OURSELVES...and what will we say? WE COULDN'T DO ANYTHING? WE DIDN'T MAKE THE DECISIONS? stand up. IMPEACH AND TRY.

Sent by rob | 1:27 AM | 11-9-2007

I went through SERE in 2003. I was waterboarded. It is terrifying. It is not torture. It is effective. The gentleman from the Army who went through "the highest level of SERE" must not have actually done so. Waterboarding is alive and well.

Sticking people with hot pokers is torture, bamboo shoots under fingernails is torture, beating them with clubs is torture. Waterboarding is mentally excruciating but you are not going to die or be harmed.

If we want to take a line from Monty Python and give every terrorist the "Comfy Chair" treatment, we will be very hard up for intelligence indeed. Technical intelligence collection methods (SIGINT, ELINT, MASINT, etc) are not applicable to the Taliban. They're cavemen. Our best tool is HUMINT. If putting mental anguish on a terror suspect is what it takes to get information, I have no qualms about that. I think people that do are conveniently removed from the realities of terror and the level of the game that is being played here.

It also seems to me that, while I am no fan of Mr. Bush, a lot of the "outrage" at things under his administration are really just outrage at him being redirected to attack his periphery.

Sent by Sam | 3:39 AM | 11-20-2007

Torture! The be-heading of our soldiers, THAT'S TORTURE, but I see none of you protesting this form of inhumane treatment. Do any of you Liberals have the fortitude to defend and protect this country? Or, would you prefer to live under Taliban and Al Qaeda rule? If waterboarding can provide any information to thwart another attack on our country, I have no problem with the use of this technique.

Sent by USAF Vet | 5:06 PM | 12-13-2007

WE should be peeling the skins of our enemies and pouring salt on the wounds and then waterboard them and then break every joint slowly. The ones who are left standing after a war write history. Every civilization is built on conquest, so we either fight or allow our world to be overrun by a society that thinks that living in mud huts is better.

Sent by Marco Juarez | 6:39 PM | 12-13-2007