Marine F18s On Station
From One Mean Street To Another

The precise horrors of waterboarding

Since I have covered my experience with and my support for waterboarding we can cut to a different part of the chase. Recently former SERE instructor Malcolm Nance wrote a piece at Small Wars Journal detailing the  actual techniques and results of using the process. In the piece he claims that in many cases water is actually forced into the lungs. I did not object to the characterization and took him at face value when he said that he had done it and seen it done. I don't have the medical expertise to comment on those implications. In my case it never got even close to that as I caved early and often. At Captain's Quarter's a SEAL disagrees with Mr. Nance.

However, he did take exception to one point of Nance's column, the one that I had found most impactful. Nance wrote:

    In the media, waterboarding is called "simulated drowning," but that's a misnomer. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning.

    Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.

Mike's secondary specialty in the SEAL force is as an advanced combat medic. Without getting into specifics on his experiences, Mike strongly disputes Nance's exaggerations of waterboarding. There is a word for people who have "pint after pint of water" filling their lungs: dead. "In fact," according to Mike, "they would be very, very dead. By definition, anyone who has drowned is in fact dead. A large percentage of true drownings do not involve ANY water entering the lungs because the epiglottis closes off the air passages as water enters the throat. People who die immediately from being immersed in water actually die of suffocation, not water entering their lungs. Not only that, many people who survive a near-drowning who do have even small amounts of water that slip by the epiglottis and enter their lungs can die later of fluid shifts and pneumonia. I can assure you that we do not use any technique that involves true suffocation or aspiration of water into the lungs. One cannot get questions to answers from people who suffocate or have water fill their lungs in any interrogation technique, which would render that technique more than a little self-defeating. Dead men tell no tales -- and also make rather poor soldiers."