Waterboarding attracts international condemnation and is banned by many countries

In this technique, the individual is bound securely to an inclined bench, which is approximately four feet by seven feet. The individual's feet are generally elevated. A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes. Water is then applied to the cloth in a controlled manner. As this is done, the cloth is lowered until it covers both the nose and mouth. Once the cloth is saturated and completely covers the mouth and nose, air flow is slightly restricted for 20 to 40 seconds due to the presence of the cloth... During those 20 to 40 seconds, water is continuously applied from a height of twelve to twenty-four inches. After this period, the cloth is lifted, and the individual is allowed to breathe unimpeded for three or four full breaths... The procedure may then be repeated. The water is usually applied from a canteen cup or small watering can with a spout... You have... informed us that it is likely that this procedure would not last more than twenty minutes in any one application.

During the Spanish Inquisition, the technique was known to have been used. The suffocation of bound prisoners with water has been favored because, unlike most other torture techniques, it produces no marks on the body. CIA officers who have subjected themselves to the technique have lasted an average of 14 seconds before capitulating. It is "bad interrogation. I mean you can get anyone to confess to anything if the torture's bad enough," said former CIA officer Bob Baer.

Dr. Allen Keller, the director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, has treated "a number of people" who had been subjected to forms of near-asphyxiation, including waterboarding. In an interview for The New Yorker, he argued that "it was indeed torture. 'Some victims were still traumatized years later,' he said. One patient couldn't take showers, and panicked when it rained. 'The fear of being killed is a terrifying experience,' he said". The U.S. attorney Alan Dershowitz is reported to have shortened the term to a single word in a Boston Globe article two days later: "After all, the administration did approve rough interrogation methods for some high valued detainees. These included waterboarding, in which a detainee is pushed under water and made to believe he will drown unless he provides information, as well as sensory deprivation, painful stress positions, and simulated dog attacks," he wrote.

Whether waterboarding should be classified as a method of torture was not widely debated in the United States before it was alleged, in 2004, that members of the CIA had used the technique against certain suspected detained terrorists. The U.S. government released a memorandum written in 2002 by the Office of Legal Counsel that concluded that waterboarding did not constitute torture and could be used to interrogate subjects. The OLC reasoned that "in order for pain or suffering to rise to the level of torture, the statute requires that it be severe" and that waterboarding did not cause severe pain or suffering either physically or mentally.

Webster's Dictionary first included the term in 2009: "An interrogation technique in which water is forced into a detainee's mouth and nose so as to induce the sensation of drowning."

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