20 Facts About Waterboarding


Waterboarding is a form of water torture in which water is poured over a cloth covering the face and breathing passages of an immobilized captive, causing the individual to experience the sensation of drowning.

Water torture encompasses a variety of techniques using water to inflict physical or psychological harm on a victim as a form of torture or execution.

Drowning is defined as respiratory impairment from being in or under a liquid.

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Waterboarding can cause extreme pain, dry drowning, damage to lungs, brain damage from oxygen deprivation, other physical injuries including broken bones due to struggling against restraints, lasting psychological damage, and death.

Asphyxia or asphyxiation is a condition of severely deficient supply of oxygen to the body that arises from abnormal breathing.

The lungs are the primary organs of respiration in humans and many other animals including a few fish and some snails.

Dry drowning occurs when a person's lungs become unable to extract oxygen from the air, due primarily to:

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Adverse physical consequences can manifest themselves months after the event, while psychological effects can last for years.


In the most common method of waterboarding, the captive's face is covered with cloth or some other thin material, and the subject is immobilized on their back at an incline of 10 to 20 degrees.


Torturers pour water onto the face over the breathing passages, causing an almost immediate gag reflex and creating a drowning sensation for the captive.


Vomitus travels up the esophagus, which may then be inhaled.


Victims of waterboarding are at extreme risk of sudden death due to the aspiration of vomitus.


The term water board torture appeared in press reports as early as 1976.


In late 2007, it was widely reported that the United States Central Intelligence Agency was waterboarding extrajudicial prisoners and that the Office of Legal Counsel, Department of Justice, had authorized the procedure among enhanced interrogation techniques.

"Enhanced interrogation techniques" is a euphemism for the U.S. government's program of systematic torture of detainees by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and various components of the U.S. Armed Forces at black sites around the world, including Bagram, Guantanamo Bay, and Abu Ghraib, authorized by officials of the George W. Bush administration.

The Central Intelligence Agency is a civilian foreign intelligence service of the United States federal government, tasked with gathering, processing and analyzing national security information from around the world, primarily through the use of human intelligence.

The Office of Legal Counsel is an office in the United States Department of Justice that assists the Attorney General's position as legal adviser to the President and all executive branch agencies.


The CIA confirmed having waterboarded three Al-Qaeda suspects: Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, in 2002 and 2003.

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is a Saudi Arabian citizen alleged to be the mastermind of the bombing of the USS Cole and other maritime terrorist attacks.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is a militant held by the United States at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp under terrorism-related charges.

Abu Zubaydah is a Saudi Arabian citizen currently held by the U.S. in the Guantanamo Bay detention camps, in Cuba.


In August 2002 and March 2003, in its war on terror, the George W. Bush administration, through Jay S. Bybee, the Office of Legal Counsel, Department of Justice, issued what became known as the Torture Memos after being leaked in 2004.

The Torture Memos is a term originally applying to a set of legal memoranda drafted by John Yoo as Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the United States and signed in August 2002 by Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee, head of the Office of Legal Counsel of the United States Department of Justice.

The War on Terror, also known as the Global War on Terrorism, is a metaphor of war referring to the international military campaign that started after the September 11 attacks on the United States.

The presidency of George W. Bush began on January 20, 2001, at noon Eastern Standard Time, when he was inaugurated as the 43rd President of the United States of America.


These legal opinions argued for a narrow definition of torture under US law.


The first three were addressed to the CIA, which took them as authority to use the described enhanced interrogation techniques on detainees classified as enemy combatants.

Enemy combatant is a term referring to a person who, either lawfully or unlawfully, directly engages in hostilities for an enemy state or non-state actor in an armed conflict.


Five days before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, John Yoo, the acting Office of Legal Counsel, issued a fourth memo to the General Counsel of DOD, concluding his legal opinion by saying that federal laws related to torture and other abuse did not apply to interrogations overseas.

Interrogation is interviewing as commonly employed by law enforcement officers, military personnel, and intelligence agencies with the goal of eliciting useful information.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq lasted from 20 March to 1 May 2003 and signaled the start of the Iraq War, which was dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom by the United States.

John Choon Yoo is a Korean-American attorney, law professor, and author.


The legal opinions were withdrawn by Jack Goldsmith of the OLC in June 2004 but reaffirmed by the succeeding head of the OLC in December 2004.

Jack Landman Goldsmith is a Harvard Law School professor who has written extensively in the field of international law, civil procedure, cyber law, and national security law.


US government officials at various times said they did not believe waterboarding to be a form of torture.


In 2006, the Bush administration banned torture including waterboarding on detainees.


In January 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama issued a similar ban on the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture in interrogations of detainees.

Barack Hussein Obama II is an American politician who is the 44th and current President of the United States.


In April 2009, the U.S. Department of Defense refused to say whether waterboarding is still used for training US military personnel in resistance to interrogation.

The Department of Defense is an executive branch department of the federal government of the United States charged with coordinating and supervising all agencies and functions of the government concerned directly with national security and the United States Armed Forces.


In December 2014, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issued a declassified 500 page summary of its still classified 6,700 page report on the Central Intelligence Agency Detention and Interrogation Program.

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