What does waterboarding feel like? The CIA doesn't discuss interrogation techniques, and those who may have been subjected to the technique aren't exactly holding news conferences.
The most detailed descriptions come from eyewitness accounts and court records from wars past. The following is a transcript of the 1947 court proceedings in the trial of a World War II Japanese war criminal: Chinsaku Yuki. He was accused of the torture and murder of Philippine civilians, and ultimately convicted and sentenced to life in prison. This exchange is between the American prosecutor, Col. Keeley, and Filipino lawyer Ramon Navarro, who was subjected to waterboarding.
Col. Keeley: And then did he take you back to your room?
Navarro: When Yuki could not get anything out of me, he wanted the interpreter to place me down below. And I was told by Yuki to take off all my clothes, so what I did was to take off my clothes as ordered. I was ordered to lay on a bench and Yuki tied my feet, hands and neck to that bench, lying with my face upward. After I was tied to the bench, Yuki placed some cloth on my face. And then with water from the faucet, they poured on me until I became unconscious. He repeated that four or five times.
You mean he brought water and poured water down your throat?
No sir, on my face, until I became unconscious. We were lying that way, with some cloth on my face, and then Yuki poured water on my face continuously.
And you couldn't breathe?
No, I could not, and so I, for a time, lost consciousness. I found my consciousness came back again and found Yuki was sitting on my stomach. And then I vomited the water from my stomach, and the consciousness came back again for me.
Where did the water come out when he sat on your stomach?
From my mouth and all openings of my face ... and then Yuki would repeat the same treatment and the same procedure to me until I became unconscious again.
How many times did that happen?
Around four or five times, from two o'clock up to four o'clock in the afternoon. When I was not able to endure his punishment which I received, I told a lie to Yuki ... . I could not really show anything to Yuki, because I was really lying just to stop the torture.
Was it painful?
Not so painful, but one becomes unconscious — like drowning in the water.
Like you were drowning?
Drowning. You could hardly breathe.
Source: Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, 2007