Animatronic Waterboarding at Coney Island

For a limited time, you can learn more about waterboarding by visiting the "Waterboard Thrill Ride" at Coney Island. Steve Powers seems to have created the animatronic display to answer the same questions for the public that we're trying to answer here: what is waterboarding and how does it work? ThinkProgress says that "Powers’s initial idea was for real people to undergo real waterboarding, right there in real time but his wife was among the first to point out that that might be a tad over the line.”

Video report from after the cut.

Chris Hitchens Gets Waterboarded: "Believe Me, It’s Torture"

Writer and friend of neoconservative causes Chris Hitchens previously wrote that there was a distinction between "extreme interrogation" techniques like waterboarding and actual torture. Critics invited Hitchens to challenge his assumptions and experience the technique himself. Recently he did just that, submitting himself to waterboarding at SERE. His article is not just a firsthand report of the experience of being waterboarded but a discussion of the practical considerations of sanctioning waterboarding as a coercive interrogation technique and the practical value of the kind of information that can be obtained through torture from people inclined to fabricate information even without being compelled to do so.

Chris Hitchens' article is published this month in Vanity Fair.

(See also The Guardian.)

US AG Michael Mukasey Clarifies Waterboarding Policy

On March 27 2008, US Attorney General Michael Mukasey delivered remarks to the Commonwealth Club. attended the address and submitted the following question for the Attorney General:

You avoided addressing whether waterboarding was torture during your Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on October 18. You said "I think it would be irresponsible of me to discuss particular techniques with which I am not familiar." Have you considered becoming familiar the way former Assistant Attorney General Daniel Levin did in 2004, by subjecting yourself to waterboarding under military supervision at SERE?

2008 Candidates Oppose or Ignore Congressional Ban on Waterboarding

On Wednesday, February 13 2008 HR 2082 gave three of the front-running Presidential candidates the opportunity to ban waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods. President George Bush is expected to veto this legislation.

John McCainHillary ClintonBarack Obama

A Visual History of Water-Based Tortures

Waterboarding is not a new or modern technique; it is one of many water-based tortures with long and well-documented histories of use by religious officials, military officers, and civilians. Many of those uses have resulted in public trials and convictions. These pictures depict a variety of water-based tortures including but not exclusively waterboarding, to place current practices in a historical context.

This chronology is far from complete; if you're aware of other pictures of waterboarding please let us know.

USDNI Mike McConnell says that waterboarding is torture

Today, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell refused to say whether waterboarding met the legal definition of torture, but he agreed that:

"If I had water draining into my nose, oh God, I just can't imagine how painful! Whether it's torture by anybody else's definition, for me it would be torture" - Washington Post, January 13, 2008

The USDNI also warned that "If it ever is determined to be torture, there will be a huge penalty to be paid for anyone engaging in it."

A Visit to Tuol Sleng Prison

Late last year we visited the Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We've put a photo tour up on Flickr, which includes photos of the three water-based torture apparatuses used at this prison by the Khmer Rouge between 1975-1979.

WaterboardWaterboarding BarrelWaterboarding by BarrelWater TableDSCF1265.JPGWaterboard, Table, Barrel

Assistant Attorney General Daniel Levin Tries Waterboarding

Last Friday ABC News Reported that Daniel Levin, assistant Attorney General and author of the December 30, 2004 "torture memoranda" visited a military base near Washington and underwent the procedure himself. Discussions of waterboarding are filled with thirdhand accounts and euphemistic language. We applaud Daniel Levin's curiosity, courage, and willingness to improve his understanding with direct experience in a safe, controlled environment. After resolving legal and safety issues we hope to provide this service to the general public.

Michael Mukasey: We Are Here For You

The confirmation vote for Michael Mukasey, nominee for United States Attorney General, is scheduled for Tuesday, November 6. In his confirmation hearing Judge Mukasey was asked for his opinion on waterboarding as a constitutionally valid technique for interrogation. Mukasey replied, "I don't know what's involved in the technique. ... I think it would be irresponsible of me to discuss particular techniques with which I am not familiar." would like to offer to help the nominee become more familiar with water-based coercive interrogation techniques. Using unclassified sources, news reports, and historical records we are attempting to put together as clear a picture as possible of this technique, its history, its legality, and the scope of its use. We are also attempting to organize a group of doctors, paramedics, lawyers, and volunteers to allow anyone who remains confused or unclear on the details of waterboarding to safely subject themselves to as much of the technique as they are willing to endure.

We look forward to advising, educating, and assisting Michael Mukasey, future candidates, public figures, and anyone else who professes ignorance of our nation's most controversial coercive interrogation technique.

What Waterboarding Is

Waterboarding induces panic and suffering by forcing a person to inhale water into the sinuses, pharynx, larynx, and trachea.

The head is tilted back and water is poured into the upturned mouth or nose. Eventually the subject cannot exhale more air or cough out more water, the lungs are collapsed, and the sinuses and trachea are filled with water. The subject is drowned from the inside, filling with water from the head down. The chest and lungs are kept higher than the head so that coughing draws water up and into the lungs while avoiding total suffocation. "His sufferings must be that of a man who is drowning, but cannot drown."

Waterboarding is not:

  • upright or face-down dunking: People dunked face-first in water can keep water out for as long as they can hold their breath. When one is inclined with the head back, holding one's breath will not prevent the upper respiratory tract from filling with water.
  • asphyxiation: Survivors of near-drowning experiences report that the sensation of water flooding down the larynx and trachea as they struggle to breathe is the most terrifying aspect of the experience. In waterboarding, this begins quickly, long before the onset of oxygen starvation.
  • submersion: Waterboarding does not require immersion in standing water. Someone can be waterboarded with as little as a canteen or two of water.
  • slowly dripping water on the forehead: Several types of water-based tortures have been used in Asia, but the famous "Chinese Water Torture" demonstrated in Mythbusters Episode 25 is very different than waterboarding.
  • a simulation: Waterboarding is actually forcing large quantities of water into the pharynx, and trachea, inducing choking and gagging in the subject.

Correction: Early drafts of this page indicated that waterboarding included inhaling water into the lungs. The recently declassified Bybee Memo's official procedure is to prevent this.