Firsthand Accounts

"I wanted to prove it wasn't torture. They cut off our heads, we put water on their face...I got voted to do this but I really thought 'I'm going to laugh this off.' "
"It is way worse than I thought it would be, and that's no joke. It is such an odd feeling to have water poured down your nose with your head back...It was instantaneous...and I don't want to say this: absolutely torture."
— Erich “Mancow” Muller, NBC Chicago, May 22, 2009

"Cold water from a bottle that had been kept in the fridge was then poured onto the cloth by one of the guards so that I could not breathe. This obviously could only be done for one or two minutes at a time. The cloth was then removed and the bed put into a vertical position. The whole process was then repeated during about an hour. Injuries to my ankles and wrists also occurred during the waterboarding as I struggled in the panic of not being able to breathe."
— Khalid Shaikh Mohammed,, April 28, 2009

I was a Navy Aircrewman and was subjected to waterboarding twice while attending SERE school in California in 1984. From what I am reading, their techniques have changed somewhat. During my experience on the waterboard, no cloths were used over my face. The water was poured straight into my nose while one interrogator held his hand over my mouth. When I couldn't hold my breath any longer, I inhaled and the water went into my lungs. I was unable to move due to being strapped to the board from head to toe. When I started vomiting, they release my head to allow me to throw up. I refused to answer their questions and I was subjected to it again. I couldn't take it any more and gave them a few answers just to get it to stop. It was absolutely horrible. There were 35 men in our group that went through the training. To the best of my knowledge, only 4 of us got the waterboard treatment. I was the first lucky bastard to get it. Having the water being poured directly into my nose seems much worse than using the wet cloth technique.
— Anonymous email to, Apr 23, 2009

"It sounded like when we are really in pain, choking in water. The sound was screaming, from the throat. I suppose they could not bear the torture. Whenever we heard the noises we were really shocked and scared. We thought one day they will do the same thing to us."
Is it torture?
"Yes, it is severe torture. We could try it and see how we would react if we are choking under water for just two minutes. It is very serious."
— Van Nath, Survivor recalls horrors of Cambodia genocide, CNN April 7, 2008

"The rag was soaked rapidly. Water flowed everywhere: in my mouth, in my nose, all over my face. But for a while I could still breathe in some small gulps of air. I tried, by contracting my throat, to take in as little water as possible and to resist suffocation by keeping air in my lungs for as long as I could. But I couldn't hold on for more than a few moments. I had the impression of drowning, and a terrible agony, that of death itself, took possession of me. In spite of myself, all the muscles of my body struggled uselessly to save me from suffocation."
— Henri Alleg, quoted in Waterboarding is torture - I did it myself, says US advisor, by Leonard Doyle in The Independent, November 1, 2007.

"Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word."
Malcom Nance, Waterboarding is Torture… Period, Small Wars Journal, October 31, 2007

"They would lash me to a stretcher then prop me up against a table with my head down. They would then pour about two gallons of water from a pitcher into my nose and mouth until I lost consciousness."
"They laid me out on a stretcher and strapped me on. The stretcher was then stood on end with my head almost touching the floor and my feet in the air. . . . They then began pouring water over my face and at times it was almost impossible for me to breathe without sucking in water."
testimony of two Americans imprisoned by Japanese soldiers.

"I held my breath for a while and then had to exhale and—as you might expect—inhale in turn. The inhalation brought the damp cloths tight against my nostrils, as if a huge, wet paw had been suddenly and annihilatingly clamped over my face. Unable to determine whether I was breathing in or out, and flooded more with sheer panic than with mere water, I triggered the pre-arranged signal and felt the unbelievable relief of being pulled upright and having the soaking and stifling layers pulled off me. I find I don’t want to tell you how little time I lasted.
I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture."

— Christopher Hitchens, "Believe Me, It’s Torture", Vanity Fair, August 2008