The claim made by Carson LeMahieu (Feb. 21), that water-boarding is not a form of torture, deserves to be challenged. LeMahieu, like Bush, acknowledges the restraining force of moral standards so absolute that they can render worthless whatever good consequences result from violating them. Both refuse to say waterboarding is torture because both see torture as a moral absolute.
LeMahieu said that waterboarding is not torture because it “carries very little risk of major injury or death.” But this suggestion shows a complete misconception of the torturer’s craft. Insofar as a technique risks killing or permanently injuring a victim, it is a poor one. If the subject dies, or can no longer speak because his tongue has been cut out, or can no longer hear because his ears have been severely damaged, he can no longer surrender his most valuable possession: his secrets.
The torturer trades not in death and injury, but in fear and suffering. From his point of view, the best technique is that which can quickly and repeatedly create a mixture of the most extreme forms of fear and suffering. Waterboarding fits the standard perfectly: within seconds, a subject is overwhelmed by the fear of imminent death and the intolerable feeling of suffocation. After the briefest of interludes, the procedure can be repeated again and again without, I suspect, the law of diminishing returns kicking in very quickly, if at all.