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The Sadism of American Waterboarding

“Waterboarding” is a euphemism for a form of torture older than the United States itself. What makes the term “waterboarding” particularly grotesque is its winking reference to the American pastime of surfing. I’m reminded of the moment when Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) orders his soldiers to keep surfing during the onshore invasion of a Vietnamese encampment: Charlie don’t surf!. Kurtz’s Kilgore’s ejaculated command captures the ideology underlying the US invasion of Vietnam by characterizing Vietnamese as unable and unwilling to take part in the quintessentially American (by way of Hawaii) sport of surfing.

Still, it’s sometimes good to have things broken down in not-so-cultural-studiesesque analysis. Mark Benjamin does this when he writes

The documents also lay out, in chilling detail, exactly what should occur in each two-hour waterboarding "session." Interrogators were instructed to start pouring water right after a detainee exhaled, to ensure he inhaled water, not air, in his next breath. They could use their hands to "dam the runoff" and prevent water from spilling out of a detainee's mouth. They were allowed six separate 40-second "applications" of liquid in each two-hour session – and could dump water over a detainee's nose and mouth for a total of 12 minutes a day. Finally, to keep detainees alive even if they inhaled their own vomit during a session – a not-uncommon side effect of waterboarding – the prisoners were kept on a liquid diet. The agency recommended Ensure Plus.

I cannot tell you how angry this makes me, angry that so many Americans were deceived into agreeing that waterboarding is a humane form of torture and angry that the Obama administration is not moving more quickly to close Guantanamo and that the sadists who authorized the use of torture are not being held accountable for their crimes.

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It was Robert Duvall, not Marlon Brando. Pedantic I know.