There’s a lot of misinformation about the topic of water boarding, whether it’s torture or not. I suppose, since it doesn’t leave any cigarette or soldering iron burn scars, or if it doesn’t involve pulling out fingernails or teeth, it doesn’t quite match up with Hollywood’s version of torture. Still, as a former professional who occasionally dabbled in counter terror and counter espionage, while I didn’t participate in situations involving even mild, moderate or severe torture, I can appreciate the specialty.
Anyone who believes that America’s relative lack of terrorist attacks on our soil since 9/11 suggests that there is no threat, or that it’s overstated, is – quite frankly – a moron. The fact that there hasn’t been such an attack, is due largely because there are nations who still use torture as a means of extracting meaningful intelligence…and while they aren’t working for “US” so to speak, they are interested in getting meaningful intelligence into our operational hands.
Torture is happening. And while it’s unpalatable to consider, and certainly forbidden to disclose, America is benefitting from it. And America’s citizens are safer because of it. For this reason alone, I can condone a little water boarding.
The following is an excerpt from my latest novel, which sort of outlines some philosophies about water boarding and dispels some of Hollywood’s notions about its value and application.
From, “An Abduction Affair.” By Daniel C. Chamberlain
Corso was taken from the van, struggling weakly. He was freed from the duct tape and placed on his back; head down on a rough wooden plank, propped up on some bricks and tilted at a forty-five degree angle. He was strapped down to the board, arms to his sides, using wide padded belts. The hood remained in place. Next to the plank were a couple dozen two-liter bottles of water. The water boarding would commence immediately.
There are several schools of thought with regards to forced interrogation. Some feel that information received using coercive techniques is suspect. At the same time, other, more reliable methods are far more time consuming. Time here was a consideration.
Modern Hollywood thrillers would have us all believing the way to interrogate someone is to instill fear through the presence of sinister looking characters uttering melodramatic preambles. Follow that up with threatening lines of questioning interspersed with liberally delivered episodes of painful stimuli, and you have nearly every scene from every movie ever made where interrogation is featured. It’s all theatrical bullshit. Trained professionals who are about to undergo interrogation try to remain quiet and as stoic as possible. They know that what’s coming is going to be an unpleasant experience, and likely of long duration following which the question of their survival is highly doubtful. Why waste time and breath talking?
Untrained subjects of interrogation will nearly universally ask what it is you want to know. This is a tactic they believe provides them with time to think of ways to deceive, or if they are terrified enough, they’ll gladly provide whatever it is you want to know in hopes of avoiding any unpleasantness. Personally, I don’t like using either fear or pain as motivators. It’s unreliable because one can never know ahead of time, how resistant to fear or painful stimuli the subject of the interrogation is.
Our philosophy is, if the subject has no idea what information you’re looking for before the torment begins, he or she can’t formulate deceitful responses in advance. The trick is to make them want to be truthful from the moment the actual questioning begins. The only way to do that is to mercilessly demonstrate right from the very start, the willingness to inflict as much discomfort as necessary without actually telling them what you really want. All they know then is that they are being subjected to extreme duress without knowing why. It doesn’t follow their logical thought processes. If they know why, they can then decide how far they are willing to go to protect whatever information they possess. But when faced with extremely significant discomfort without even knowing the reason, the torment can become intolerable much more rapidly. The subject of the interrogation doesn’t know how long it’s going to continue. All they know is it really…really sucks and they want nothing more than for it to end.
It’s a huge emotional relief when the subject of interrogation finally learns that the information, which you are seeking, is actually something they can provide and most will do so just to stop the torment. Water boarding accomplishes this wonderfully.
It’s a technique in which the subject is strapped to a board, head down at roughly a forty-five degree angle with his or her face covered with a cloth towel – or in this case, the hood. Water is poured liberally over the mouth and nose so that gravity causes it to enter the mouth and nasal passages. Even if they clamp their mouth closed, they’re then forced to blow from their nose to clear the water. One has only so much air in one’s lungs. The water is poured slowly and they quickly run out of oxygen. Close attention is paid to this, so that the water can be removed before they reflexively breathe it into their lungs and it then becomes necessary to perform resuscitative measures.
Having undergone the procedure myself in training, I can tell you its decidedly uncomfortable and extremely panic inducing. The subject can resist only for a short time, but when they reach the point where they feel they must draw a breath, the sense that one is about to drown is overwhelming to the psyche. An added bonus to the interrogators stems from the fact that struggling to draw breath prevents screaming for help, though an interrogator needs to have a fairly strong stomach to listen to the gagging and gurgling over the length of the process. Do this enough times, and the subject is nearly joyful at finally being able to provide any information you want.
As it turned out, Corso was relatively easy. We actually learned everything we needed to know quickly without even using half of the water supply we’d brought with us. While he was recovering, I was preparing an injection. Rolling up the sleeve of his left arm, I noted that being lean and athletic, he had numerous veins I could choose from. I selected the anticubital vein on his left arm, since he was right handed. It’s a large and easy vein to hit when someone’s struggling. With the team holding him down and muffling his mouth, I administered a heavy dose of uncut heroin. Within minutes, his head lolled side to side as the powerful drug took effect. It had to be a heavy dose to establish the next part of the tableau we were staging.
While I was waiting for the drug to do its work, I inserted a different needle into several other spots on his arms and ankles, and injected small amounts of a chemical, which would immediately produce very visible and colorful bruising. I made sure to use the chemical liberally near the elbows to cover any marks on Corso’s skin that may have been caused by his struggles against the gauze padded duct tape.
These injection sites and bruises would give the superficial impression of the telltale tracks of an intravenous drug user. Of course, any experienced investigator would immediately recognize that all the needle tracks appeared too fresh, but we weren’t really trying to fool anyone. We were giving our friend, Eduardo a package that could easily be tied up and tucked away. Eduardo had asked for discretion. We gave him an easy explanation. He’d make sure it wasn’t questioned and would be quickly buried.
As the drug worked its way though Corso’s system, it eventually caused respiratory failure. It’s not a painful death to an already unconscious person, but it’s not a particularly pleasant thing to watch. Still, if I could do the deed, I could damn well watch it! I owed him that, at least. When it was finally over, we positioned the young man’s body in a corner of the garage with his bike nearby. Arrayed on the floor were the implements of a heroin junky. It wasn’t perfect, but this was Colombia and drug deaths were an everyday occurrence. Normally, no one went out of their way to investigate such deaths, even if they suspected that a rival gang had murdered the deceased.
After downloading the contents of his phone we placed it back in his pocket. There was nothing in his wallet except money and credit cards. No photos or notes. We put that and his keys back as well. Then we left.
As we drove away, the team was noticeably silent while the van wove its way through the depressed neighborhoods, passing dilapidated homes and other signs of grinding poverty. The silence wasn’t unexpected. I suppose each individual member of the team was going through his own self-examination of the kind that has often occurred to me in the immediate aftermath of homicide. It’s not remorse. It’s not self-loathing and hate doesn’t play a part in our missions. It’s more an empathy with the deceased. No one is more attuned to their own mortality than those who routinely deal out the death card from the bottom of the deck. The team members were human, just like Corso. He did things that were not legal or moral, just as we often did. He did them for motivations that others might not agree with and of course, our motivations would probably not pass the morality test with the vast majority of the people we served and protected, even if we tried to explain them or seek their approval. So, we didn’t try. They probably didn’t care how their steaks ended up in the grocery store either, but would undoubtedly find the whole process abhorrent. Why should national security be any different?
Still, there’s a fine line, which we’re forced to cross from time to time. Whereas one could morally justify killing in defense of one’s self, an innocent party or even a political ideal, it’s difficult to emotionally reconcile such acts when they are in direct opposition to self-defense or offensive tactics; when such acts are simply committed for the sake of expedience. Corso’s death was one of expedience. Technically, he didn’t have to die. It was easier and safer to ensure his silence if he died, rather than take a risk that he could in some manner manage to wreck our future plans. We weren’t equipped to keep him on ice and we weren’t officially doing Eduardo’s work, so expecting Eduardo to unofficially help us by holding Corso would place our friend at too great a political or personal risk. So, for expedience sake, Corso died.
Killing should never be taken lightly. When it gets to the point where a person tends to do it without thinking about it afterward, it’s time to get out. I wasn’t to that point yet, and I was certain I was teamed with others who hadn’t made it to that level either. We had succeeded in gaining the information we’d set out to, but it hadn’t been fun. There was no backslapping or celebration. There were no fist-bumps; no shared self-satisfied smiles or nods of approval. There was only silence and the sound of the van’s engine.
No doubt, Corso had a family that would miss him and mourn him. Our act had brought about a degree of human misery certainly as great or maybe greater than any of his acts ever had. One cannot multiply a dozen immoral acts and suggest that they represent a greater evil than a single immoral act, regardless the guilt or innocence of the parties against whom the acts are carried out. I could live with that, as long as I never managed to forget it. Of course, in a way, I’d proven something to be true that Jennifer had earlier believed to be untrue. There was no arguing that under the right circumstances, I could be a bit of a monster too.”
I hope you liked this excerpt and learned a little about water boarding that CNN and the media don’t seem to understand.