15 January 2008


There has been quite a bit in the news lately about an interrogation procedure called “waterboarding” and whether it should be considered a form of torture or else “'a legitimate enhanced interrogation technique” as some members of George Bush’s legal team would have us believe. I was interested to learn recently that waterboarding as a form of torture used in the process of interrogation is not something new but its use has been documented for hundreds of years. In fact, it was one of the three or four main types of torture used during the Spanish Inquisition. The Spanish certainly weren’t bashful about it. In their manner of thinking they were merely ferreting out heresy and saving souls. For those purposes they carefully documented each case of torture and the methods involved and those records are available to scholars to this very day. In addition, the Spanish Inquisition didn't invent waterboarding as a system of torture. Waterboarding had already been in use in earlier times during the medieval period and was later used by the Inquisition for more than 350 years, from about 1478 to 1834 in both Spain and Mexico. The Inquisition as an institution was finally ended here in Mexico in 1857 during the reform period but where I live in Irapuato, Guanajuato, Mexico the building that housed the administrative offices of the Inquisition still stands and is now the City Museum.

During waterboarding a “victim” is strapped to a board and the board is inclined so that his or her head is lower than their feet. Then they are blindfolded. There are even rumors to the effect that the procedure used by the U.S. Government agents involves using either duct tape as a blindfold or using office supply binder clips to clip the eyelids shut, which in itself is most likely a very painful and incapacitating experience. The victim’s mouth is then forced open and a cloth placed over the face and pushed into the mouth so that it reaches the back of the throat. The Spanish called this cloth a “toca”. Water is then poured into the mouth and nostrils through the cloth and the victim immediately feels the sensation that they are drowning. If this method fails, the interrogation goes to step two. They cover the victims face with a sheet of plastic kitchen wrap and make a small hole in the plastic over the mouth. Then they pour water in the hole over the mouth area. This is extremely painful and scary and often it is fatal or severely damaging to the victim.

The Dutch East India Company is said to have used waterboarding as well as the Japanese Kempeitai and the German Gestapo of World War II. The Cambodian Khmer Rouge (Remember the “killing fields”?) also used it and we all know what kind of people they were. The U.S condemned the practice during the Spanish American War and again during the Vietnam War when harsh sentences were meted out to U.S. forces who attempted to use such procedures. My, my, how times have changed. In 2002 President George Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General John Ashcroft signed a presidential finding approving the use of waterboarding. Apparently they have yet to learn what the Spanish learned more than two hundred years ago. Confessions generated by torture were generally discounted or disregarded unless other evidence corroborated them because when a person feels that they are facing imminent death they are likely to say anything…Rambo and Superman included. Even in those times there was debate about whether testimony elicited under duress was credible.

Personally I think waterboarding is definitely torture and various polls show that about seventy percent of the American people think the same way that I do. It is nothing more than hatred and an undignified and futile practice. So why do we do it? Because George Bush says so, that’s why…and George Bush has a vision you know.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.