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.

1478~1574: The Spanish Inquisition

"The toca, also called "tortura del agua", consisted of introducing a cloth into the mouth of the victim, and forcing them to ingest water spilled from a jar so that they had the impression of drowning."
1478~1574: The Spanish Inquisition

1556~1559: The Flemish Inquisition

A less famous but no less brutal persecution of Anabaptists in Belgium. Several fatal water-based tortures are depicted in "Martyrs Mirror" (1685) with illustrations by Jan Luiken.
1556: "The Water Torture", Antwerp1558: Drowning of Joris Wippe, Dordrecht1560: The Drowning of Leonard Pluvier, Jannetje, and Marietje van Aken, Antwerp

1800s: A Common Scold

Scolding was a common punishment for antisocial women in early Europe and America. Water-based tortures were used to identify witches or inflict suffering on suspects as a trial by ordeal. Presuming that God would help the innocent by performing a miracle on their behalf, suspects would be mistreated to see if God (or Satan) would intercede.
1800s: The Ducking Stool

1858: "Negro Convict Showered to Death", Auburn State Prison, New York

In what Harper's Weekly would call a "fearful picture of the mismanagement of our public institutions ... a convict named More was, imprisoned in the State Prison at Auburn, was showered to death by the prison officials. ... all the water that was in the tank -- amounting to from three to five barrels, the quantity is uncertain -- was showered upon him in spite of his piteous cries; a few minutes after his release from the bath he fell prostrate, was carried to his cell, and died in five minutes." "The use of the shower-bath as a means of coercing criminals into submission to the orders of prison authorities began to be general about the year 1845."
The use of the shower-bath as a means of coercing criminals into submission to the orders of prison authorities began to be general about the year 1845.

1899~1902: Philippine-American War

This cartoon on the May 22, 1902 cover of Life magazine depicts American soldiers waterboarding a Filipino in the Philippine-American War. There was widespread public outcry in the early 1900s after waterboarding was discovered in use during the Philippine-American War. Lieutenant Grover Flint described one such torture session.

May 1902: "Water Cure", Philippine-American WarMay 22, 1902: Life MagazineMay 1902: "Water Cure", Philippine-American War

1956~1957: The Algerian Occupation

The French military used waterboarding against civilians suspected of cooperation with FLN in "Battle of Algiers", including their fellow French citizens. In this video, Algerian journalist Henri Aleg talks about how he was tortured with "simulated drowning".

1968: United States soldiers, Da Nang, Vietnam

On Jan. 21, 1968, The Washington Post ran a front-page photo of a U.S. soldier supervising the waterboarding of a captured North Vietnamese soldier near Da Nang. The caption said the technique induced "a flooding sense of suffocation and drowning, meant to make him talk." This picture led to an Army investigation and, two months later, the court martial of the soldier.
December 21, 1968: Da Nang, Vietnam

1975~1979: Khmer Rouge, Cambodia

Between 1975 and 1979 the Khmer Rouge used a variety of water-based tortures at their prison camps which housed Cambodian civilians, suspected Khmer Rouge defectors, and at least one American reporter.

WaterboardWaterboarding BarrelWaterboarding by BarrelWater TableDSCF1265.JPGWaterboard, Table, Barrel

1980: Hissene Habre, Chad

Drawings by a human rights group in Chad show examples of waterboarding used in the 1980s by Chadian forces under the command of military ruler Hissene Habre, who was indicted in 2005 by a Belgian court for torture and crimes against humanity and faces prosecution in Senegal.
1980 Chad Barrel

1980~2000: Latin America

Waterboarding and other water-based tortures such as “el submarino” — the submarine — were practiced against prisoners of both sides of the Peruvian Internal conflict. Similar interrogations were practiced in the Argentine Dirty War.
December 12, 1978: Uruguay

2002~2003: United States Central Intelligence Agency

"The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt." As depicted by ABC News, "Only Three Have Been Waterboarded by CIA", November 02, 2007
2005 CIA Waterboarding