Waterboarding.org started with the idea that the best way to learn about something is direct experience. Learn what it is and how to do it, then experience it yourself, then discuss whether it does or doesn't fit the legal definition of torture. Recently, Matthew "Mancow" Muller decided to investigate the issue for himself.
"I wanted to prove it wasn't torture," Mancow said. "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.' "
Witnesses said Muller thrashed on the table, and even instantly threw the toy cow he was holding as his emergency tool to signify when he wanted the experiment to stop. He only lasted 6 or 7 seconds.
"It is way worse than I thought it would be, and that's no joke,"Mancow said, likening it to a time when he nearly drowned as a child. "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."
Update 5/29: Gawker.com has a new article by John Cook titled "Mancow's 'Waterboarding' Was Completely Fake" which credits waterboarding.org for his mock-interrogator's information. We'd like to set the record straight about what parts of Mr. Muller's waterboarding exercise are and aren't legitimate.
Waterboarding is not a single specific technique, it is a family of coercive interrogation techniques within a broad 500+ year history of water-based tortures. The use of an inclined vs flat board or table, a rag vs sheet of plastic, or water vs saline vs other less pleasant liquids is a personal choice by the interrogator *not* what determines whether waterboarding is "fake" or "real". In Cambodia the Khmer Rouge used an inclined board and a cloth while Spanish Inquisitors in the 1400s used a flat board and funnel. U.S. soldiers were court-martialed for using waterboarding prisoners in Vietnam without using any board at all. Waterboarding produces severe mental and physical pain and suffering when water enters the sinuses, parynx, larynx, and trachea. If that is what Mr. Muller experienced, then he really was waterboarded and the water in his airway gave him a real sensation of drowning regardless of how it got there.
Mr. Muller's ordeal differs from a "real waterboarding" in that he willingly consented to receive the treatment, was not restrained, and was required to throw a cow to end the treatment rather than reveal or invent real or false confessions or other information. Mr. Muller's seven second ordeal should obviously not be compared to the treatment of Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who were waterboarded for a duration of between 10 and 40 seconds 90 and 183 times respectively. As Steven G Bradbury wrote in the recently released DOJ memos even the official, real waterboarding experience that soldiers receive as training at SERE "is so different from the subsequent Agency usage as to make it almost irrelevant".
John Cook says that "Keith Olbermann and other righteous anti-torture advocates are holding up Muller's experience as evidence—someone who was inclined to support waterboarding and deny that it's torture has actually experienced it, which Sean Hannity and his ilk lack the courage to do, and the facts have changed his mind. Only he hasn't actually experienced it, or anything remotely approaching what actual torture victims experienced. None of it is real." Mr. Cook seems to be missing the point: waterboarding is real, whether or not that is what Erich Muller chose to experience. If the entire Muller production was entirely fake - if no water ever entered his larynx and trachea and he did not experience even the early stages of drowning - then it's true that the ordeal no more demonstrates the harm of waterboarding than not hitting your thumb with a hammer demonstrates the harm of hammers. But if Mr. Muller found even a 6-7 second voluntary exposure to allegedly "fake waterboarding" by an untrained Marine an unbearable experience he might begin to understand how much more unpleasant dozens of repetitions of longer duration and severity would be, much like holding one's hand over a candle might help one understand what it's like to be burned alive.
If John Cook or any other Gawker.com would like to find out whether waterboarding meets the formal definition of torture we will be happy, with their consent and permission, to visit Gawker HQ and assist them in having as authentic an experience as their curiosity will permit.
Update 5/30: Erich Muller clarifies his intent and experience: