Feature

How it feels to be waterboarded

In order to make his own judment about whether or not waterboarding is a form of torture, Christopher Hitchens submitted himself to the procedure.

Christopher Hitchens
Vanity Fair

Is waterboarding a form of torture? asked Christopher Hitchens. Wanting to make my own judgment, I recently let a team of veterans—who once trained American soldiers how to endure waterboarding—inflict it on me. With my hands and legs bound and a black hood covering my face, “I wasn’t able to flail as I was pushed on a sloping board and positioned with my head lower than my heart.” Towels were placed over my nose and mouth. Soon, I felt “a slow cascade of water going up my nose.” I tried to hold my breath, but soon I had to inhale, which “brought the damp cloths tight against my nostrils, as if a huge wet paw had been suddenly and annihilatingly clamped over my face.” Gagging and overcome with nausea and terror, I quickly triggered the prearranged stop signal. If this had been a real interrogation, “I would quite readily have agreed to supply any answer.” For days, I felt shamed at my weakness, and have awoken several times in panic, convinced I was suffocating. The experience left me with one clear conclusion: “If waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.”

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