Friday, February 1, 2008

Torture 2.0

Yesterday, my waterboarding video caught the attention of the Wall Street Journal and a pointilized rendition of my face wound up on the front page. Good Morning America called at 9 AM wondering if I was interested in an all expense paid trip to New York. The media circus continued throughout the day and night and I basked in my 15 minutes of fame. If you haven’t seen the video here is a repost:

In my original blog I was only interested in the experience of waterboarding. In this post I would like to discuss whether or not this is in fact torture.

Is waterboarding torture? Yes. While it doesn’t cause any lasting, physical damage in a controlled setting, it does trick the brain into having the sensation of drowning. I conducted my experiment in a controlled environment. It was my priority to foresee any health risks and minimize the endangerment to my body. The outcome of any waterboarding session is subject to the demeanor of the interrogator . He or she could potentially abuse the method and cause real drowning.
Even if the interrogation only simulates drowning it still causes psychological stress on the victim. Therefore, according to International Humanitarian Law, waterboarding falls under the category of torture.

No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.

What did it feel like when I was waterboarding? I felt blind panic to breath followed by an even higher state of panic when I tried to inhale and realized I could not.

Would I do it again? No! It’s torture. I’m not some fat guy in the circus taking live cannon balls in the gut every night for applause. This isn’t a freak show. I created a spectacle to gather attention to a point. I’m satisfied that the point has been made. It’s torture.

Would I ever suggest using waterboarding to prevent a future 9/11, terrorist type of attack? I’m not a policy maker. I am only a layman who has subjected himself to the experience, but I've been getting this question a lot. My answer has been, "No."
Torture is a technique of warfare. I believe that warfare is only wise if diplomacy fails. Even a brilliant military strategist like Sun Tzu hints at this:

For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.

If one comes into a position where torture is a necessary option, the problem is not whether the victim will suffer in that moment. That is just a horrible symptom of a deeper rooted, endemic issue of human relations that has previously gone unchecked. There will always be conflict between parties. The solution to the torture debate lies in how we address our initial discord with one another.

Why did I do it? I was tired of hearing politicians and pundits argue about whether or not it was torture when the materials were so accessible that they could do it without leaving home. I did it to show that it could be done. I wanted to add a visceral component to an otherwise abstract debate on the nature of human suffering.

Why did I make a waterboarding video and post it on the Internet? I wanted to document my experience as well as build awareness. The purpose of this blog is to create social change using media. I hope that by subjecting myself to waterboarding it has added a fresh perspective to the dialogue. What follows is a list of links that react to my video.

Military correspondent Yochi Dreazen's Front Page Wall Street Journal article started it all. I think that it's articulately written and the most true to my feelings on the subject of waterboarding.

My friend Trent Toulouse was the guy who poured the water on me. He's posted a guest blog on my site that looks at the experience from the point of view of the torturer.

As things heated up last night I was a guest on Brian Suits show on KFI 640 AM Los Angeles. It lasted about ten minutes and climaxed when Brian asked me, "Would you use waterboarding against me if I locked up your mother in a conex box in the middle of the desert and wouldn't tell you where she was?" My mom was standing right next to me shaking her head. She didn't think that I should torture anyone. I told him "No."

Albuquerque's local CBS affiliate KRQE 13 ran Taste of Torture as the top story on their 10 PM news program. It was a classic, "If it Bleeds it Leads" story. The reporter Kim Holland's angle on the phenomenon was that we were just three dudes, kicking back eating pizza, drinking beer and looking for some fun. Fun that could've cost one local Rio Rancho man his life.

There are also a lot of blogs out there carrying my video. Reading some of the feedback coverage is like walking through a hall of mirrors. Dreazin's WSJ article was an analysis of my blog, the pro bloggers wrote a reaction to his piece, the amateur bloggers respond to the pro bloggers critique and the meaning of the story slowly gets diffused until eventually all that's left is a green image of me spitting up water and some troll in the comment section remarking, "Dumbass." That said, my favorite blog thus far has been's Waterboarding... So Hot Right Now (The headline was probably inspired by a comment my sister made about puggles on my myspace acount). The comment section of the Gawker article is hilarious. I think they might've pioneered the inevitable waterboarding subculture.

Here are some of the other blogs that picked my video up.
Abu Muqawama
Chinese Edition of the Wall Street Journal
Deal Breaker
The Feminist Bloggers Network
The Mahablog
Psyche, Science, and Society
Rite Wing Technopagan
White Coat Underground

Web 2.0 made this possible. My video is only a minute long. It took minimum production to construct and yet brought the issue to the interest of thousands of people. It just goes to show that anyone with a video camera and a free account to Blogger and Youtube can advocate a cause to a mass audience. This is a powerful medium.