In his first TV interview after becomming the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump spoke about a variety of issues – one of them was torture.
Trump explained that if ISIS and other terrorist groups across the world can butcher citizens with such barbarism – we, at the very least, should be able to ‘fight fire with fire’.
President Trump added that if the so-called Islamic State are happy to behead their captives, or set them on fire, or drown them, or sometimes even go so far as to lower their enemies into swimming pools of acid – then he would like to bring back banned torture methods himself, believing that torture ‘absolutely works’.
One thing Trump wants to bring back is waterboarding – an illegal form of torture which involves covering a certain person’s mouth with cloth, disorientating them, and pouring water over the cloth to give the sensation that they are drowning.
Donald wants to bring back waterboarding as he believes the U.S. isn’t on an ‘even playing field’ with terrorism and that they are ‘not allowed to do anything’. But just what does waterboarding actually feel like?
The late, great journalist – Christopher Hitchens, who sadly passed away in 2011 once volunteered to be waterboarded so that he could legitimately know what it is like before writing about his experience in Vanity Fair.
This is what he wrote:
Firmly grabbed from behind, pulled to my feet, pinioned by my wrists (which were then cuffed to a belt), I was cut off from the sunlight by having a black hood pulled over my face.
I was then turned around a few times, I presume to assist in disorienting me, and led over some crunchy gravel into a darkened room.
And some weird music assaulted my ears (I’m no judge of these things, but I wouldn’t have expected former Special Forces types to be so fond of techno-disco.) The outside world seemed suddenly very distant indeed.
Arms already lost to me, I wasn’t able to flail as I was pushed on to a sloping board and positioned with my head lower than my heart. Then my legs were lashed together so that the board and I were one single and trussed unit.
You may have read the official lie about this treatment, which is that it “simulates” the feeling of drowning.
This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are being drowned, albeit slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those who are applying the pressure.
The “board” is the instrument, not the method. You are not being boarded. You are being watered. This was very rapidly brought home to me when, on top of the hood, which still admitted a few flashes of random and worrying strobe light to my vision, three layers of towel were added.
In this pregnant darkness, head downward, I waited until I abruptly felt a slow cascade of water going up my nose. Determined to resist if only for the honour of my Navy ancestors who had so often been in peril on the sea, I held my breath for a while and then had to exhale and – as you might expect – inhale in turn.
The inhalation brought the damp cloths tight against my nostrils, as if a huge, wet paw had been suddenly and annihilatingly clamped over my face. Unable to determine whether I was breathing in or out, and flooded more with sheer panic than with mere water, I triggered the pre-arranged signal and felt the unbelievable relief of being pulled upright and having the soaking and stifling layers pulled off me. I find I don’t want to tell you how little time I lasted.
Hitchens went onto explain that the reason he didn’t want to admit how long he lasted is because it was only a matter of seconds while the Islamist militant, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is rumoured to have lasted two minutes before giving in – although the story is not confirmed.
After catching his breath Hitchens decided to give the waterboarding another go to see if he could last any longer. A paramedic checked him over and they went to work.
An interval was ordered, and then I felt the mask come down again. Steeling myself to remember what it had been like last time, I fought down the first, and some of the second, wave of nausea and terror but soon found that I was an abject prisoner of my gag reflex. The interrogators would hardly have had time to ask me any questions, and I knew that I would readily have agreed to supply any answer.
I still feel ashamed when I think about it. Also, I have since woken up trying to push bedcovers off my face, and if I do anything that makes me short of breath I find myself clawing at the air with a horrible sensation of smothering and claustrophobia.
No doubt this will pass. As if detecting my misery and shame, one of my interrogators comfortingly said: “Any time is a long time when you’re breathing water.
I am somewhat proud of my ability to “keep my head”, as the saying goes. I was convinced that, when the water pressure had become intolerable, I had uttered the code word that would cause it to cease.
But my interrogator told me that I had not spoken a word. I had activated the “dead man’s handle” that signaled the onset of unconsciousness.
Hitchens concluded with the words of Abraham Lincoln when he said: ‘If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong’. Hitchens quipped: ‘If waterboarding is not torture, nothing is torture’.
Joseph Loftus is a Gold Standard NCTJ journalist with four years experience working for international and regional press.
As well as working for UNILAD and LADbible, Joseph has worked as Liverpool Correspondent for Unsigned & Independent Magazine, as well as stints with the Liverpool Echo and Warrington Guardian.