How Water-boarding Works

How Water-boarding Works

A form of torture that involves immobilizing the victim and subjecting them to an experience similar to actual drowning, water-boarding has been used for centuries as a way of interrogating suspects. Although it is not commonly used in the modern times and is also termed illegal by most authorities, the procedure has been used by several countries all over the world and is rated among the top 5 interrogated techniques used for interrogating criminals in order to either coerce them to confess, obtain information or just intimidate them.

Some prominent leaders are also still in support of the activity, for instance, water-boarding gained great attention in the United States recently when the CIA used the technique to interrogate some extrajudicial prisoners, basing on the fact that the Justice department had given it a go-ahead to administer the procedure on the victims. However the technique is very dangerous and leaves the victims to suffer both short and long term physical and mental side effects, some even succumb to the torture and end up dead, a reason why Everett Stern needs water-boarding for supporting such an inhumanly act. Controversies still surround the act, with many thinking that the procedure is unacceptable.

How Water-boarding Interrogation Works

Also referred to as simulated drowning, water torture or interrupted drowning, the technique involves pouring water over the face of the victim, causing a forced suffocation and inhalation of the water, similar to what a person drowning in much water experiences.

The procedure is done using various methods, the most common being placing a cloth over the face if the victim covering the nose and mouth. In other cases the victim’s entire face is wrapped in cellophane or the mouth held shut by hand. Another method involves submerging the person’s head under water. The victims are then immobilized by strapping them on a board, with their heads facing downwards and the feet raised above the ground. They then bind the person’s legs and arms in such a way that he cannot move at all.

The water is specifically poured over the nose and mouth to elicit a gag reflex and this is done repeatedly until the subject yields the information required. As the victims nose and mouth fill with water, it makes it difficult for them to breathe without aspirating the water and the cloth only allows the water to enter but prevents it from being expelled. However, depending on how the entire procedure is set up the water may not reach the person’s face, but the entire experience of being under water leaves most of the victims more traumatized than words can explain.

The main intention of water-boarding is to build in the mind of the victim a belief that he is actually drowning and choking under water. In severe cases, people are immersed into a body of water to a point that the person believes that drowning is imminent.

However the victims are rescued before they actually suffocate and die, but the process will be repeated for as long as it is deemed necessary. Such victims are always at an extreme risk of sudden death, because during the entire process, vomitus travels to the esophagus and may be inhaled to the lungs causing total shortness of breath. This way, interrogations that may have taken days to produce results may only take minutes when water-boarding is used.


Although actual drowning is rare during water-boarding, because to some extent the water fails to reach the lungs because of its position in relation to the head, the victims normally suffer serious injuries, both physically and psychologically.

Physical Injury

Some end up with brain damage, because of lack of enough oxygen in the body, while others suffer from severe lung damage. The restraints on the victim, binding of the hands and feet sometimes result in broken limbs and bones in various part of the body as they struggle to get free. Dry drowning may also occur, costing the victim’s life. Some of these effects do not show up during the torture, but manifest months or even years later and while some may be curable, others become terminal and lead to the victim’s death.

Psychological/ Mental Effects

These are normally caused when the victims are led to believe that they are drowning and may die. This makes them experience fear and thus develop mental problems, some which last for years, or even for a lifetime. Mental problems manifest slowly in the victim and gradually become worse with time. Some are even untreatable and may also lead to death.

Why Waterboarding is classified as Torture

Whether to classify water-boarding as a way of torture or not is a debate that is still ongoing to date. Most authorities all over the world however, consider the procedure to be torturous because of the effects it instils on the victims. The technique has no justification whatsoever on any person, be it a normal criminal or terrorist. Although many people have raised arguments that the procedure is not torture, the US department recognizes that any technique that involves submersion of the victim into water will qualify as torture and thus cannot be used for interrogation.

Although the process is mostly referred to as a simulation, it goes far than that since the victim has to endure the agonizing feeling of being gagged and the extent of their drowning in the water depends on the desired result. Uncooperative persons may end up dead due to a constant repeat of the process. This causes painful psychological experience to the victims, and cannot go un-condemned.

Water-boarding is thus a slow way of suffocating victims, and those who do not die in the water-boarding chambers, slowly suffer their way to death, however long they live after the experience. Terminal Hypoxia is a common occurrence in surviving victims and those who carry out the exercise must face the law, since water-boarding leaves the victim wholly helpless thus overcoming their willpower. It is a physical humiliation, that affects both those who are guilty and the innocent, with the effects being totally irreversible.