But Christopher Hitchens does. Recently, Hitch allowed himself to be waterboarded by the people who train US Special Forces soldiers to resist torture at the hands of the enemy. The experience is, by all acounts, horrifying. Over at Vanity Fair, Hitchens has written an article about the experience, and there is a video as well. Both are well worth your time. In Hitchens' opinion, "if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture."
I don't know quite what to make of the torture of Hitchens. Watching the video is truly shocking. He lasts all of 10 seconds (more or less) before ending the demonstration in sheer terror, and confesses to now having panic attacks and nightmares. However, while I may not have experienced waterboarding, I was under no naive conceptions about its nature. Nor does that change the theoretic logic with which I understand the dilemma. Of course, interrogation measures like waterboarding are extreme, terrifying, and torturous. They are, and should be, beyond the pale of all but the most extreme interrogations. If the country as a whole believes that there are absolutely no circumstances under which such techniques would be justified, then the techniques should be clearly and explicitly prohibited. Congress' refusal to explicitly ban waterboarding has left the door open for its use. While I do believe that the use of torture may, in very rare, unique, and controlled cases be justified, I also believe that the law must be followed.
The question of the use of torture is a difficult one to think clearly and rationally about. Hitchens manages to do so, even having undergone torture himself. As he notes (quoting a discussion he had with Malcolm Nance:
1. Waterboarding is a deliberate torture technique and has been prosecuted as such by our judicial arm when perpetrated by others.
2. If we allow it and justify it, we cannot complain if it is employed in the future by other regimes on captive U.S. citizens. It is a method of putting American prisoners in harm’s way.
3. It may be a means of extracting information, but it is also a means of extracting junk information. (Mr. Nance told me that he had heard of someone’s being compelled to confess that he was a hermaphrodite. I later had an awful twinge while wondering if I myself could have been “dunked” this far.) To put it briefly, even the C.I.A. sources for the Washington Post story on waterboarding conceded that the information they got out of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was “not all of it reliable.” Just put a pencil line under that last phrase, or commit it to memory.
4. It opens a door that cannot be closed. Once you have posed the notorious “ticking bomb” question, and once you assume that you are in the right, what will you not do? Waterboarding not getting results fast enough? The terrorist’s clock still ticking? Well, then, bring on the thumbscrews and the pincers and the electrodes and the rack.
As I've noted in my posts linked above, some of these arguments I do not buy; others I have great sympathy with. This is not an easy discussion to have; even having it is likely to get one branded as a "torture sympathizer." But we must have it.