“I would bring back waterboarding, and I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” the so-called “president” said last year. You could tell what a really really tough guy he was, couldn't you? It must have broken his heart back when a crippling but mercifully short-lived attack of bone spurs kept him out of the Vietnam war. No doubt he was recalling those early agonies when he later told another campaign audience, “Don’t tell me it doesn’t work — torture works. Believe me, it works.”
So naturally he named another tough guy, a Tea Party congressman from Kansas named Mike Pompeo, to head the CIA. And Pompeo, a big fan of waterboarding himself, has just picked as his top deputy one Gina Haspel. Ms. Haspel had gained in-house fame of a sort by running a secret CIA jail in Thailand where one prisoner was waterboarded 83 times before his torturers finally decided he had nothing useful to tell. She later ordered the destruction of the videotapes and recordings of his torture.
So here we are back again to those wondrous worlds of yesteryear — the Inquisition, the Nazi death camps, the gulag, the Salem Witch trials, the Crucifixion, the Roman Circus. And Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, both draft dodgers like the so-called "president."
Before we get too excited, though, let's examine again the testimony of a man who knows, as Trump and King and Pompeo and Haspel never will, the truth about waterboarding. Not only is it torture, it is what you try after other forms of torture haven’t worked. (I first posted M. Alleg’s story in 2006. Fat lot of good it did then and a fat lot it will do now. But still…)
The following is from a 1958 book called The Question. The author, a French newspaper editor in Algeria named Henri Alleg, had already resisted a month of hideous torture at the hands of his own country’s paratroopers, including electric shock and having his testicles burned. The worst, inflicted only when all else had failed, was yet to come…
A few moments later L— came into the room. Twenty-five years old, short, sunburnt, pomaded hair, small forehead. He came up to me, smiling, and said, “Ah! So you’re the customer? Come with me…”M. Alleg never broke under the torture and was sent away to ten years in prison, from which he escaped and fled to Czechoslovakia.
L— now laid on the ground a black plank, sweating with humidity, polluted and sticky with vomit left, no doubt, by previous “customers.”
I lay down on the plank. L— , with the help of another man, attached me by the wrists and ankles with leather straps fixed to the wood…
Together they picked up the plank to which I was attached and carried me into the kitchen. Once there, they rested the top of the plank, where my head was, against the sink. L— fixed a rubber tube to the metal tap which shone just above my face. He wrapped my head in a rag, while Captain D— said: “Put a wedge in his mouth.”
With the rag already over my face, L— held my nose. He tried to jam a piece of wood between my lips in such a way that I could not close my mouth or spit out the tube. When everything was ready, he said to me: “When you want to talk, all you have to do is move your fingers.”
And he turned on the tap. The rag was soaked rapidly. Water flowed everywhere: in my mouth, in my nose, all over my face. But for a while I could still breathe in some small gulps of air. I tried, by contracting my throat, to take in as little water as possible and to resist suffocation by keeping air in my lungs for as long as I could.
But I couldn’t hold on for more than a few moments. I had the impression of drowning, and a terrible agony, that of death itself, took possession of me. In spite of myself, the fingers of both my hands shook uncontrollably,
“That’s it! He’s going to talk,” said a voice.
The water stopped running and they took away the rag. I was able to breathe. In the gloom, I saw the lieutenants and the captain, who, with a cigarette between his lips, was hitting my stomach with his fist to make me throw out the water I had swallowed. Befuddled by the air I was breathing, I hardly felt the blows.
“Well, then?” I remained silent. “He’s playing games with us. Put his head under again!”
This time I clenched my fists, forcing the nails into my palm. I had decided I was not going to move my fingers again. It was better to die of asphyxia right away. I feared to undergo again that terrible moment when I had felt myself losing consciousness, while at the same time I was fighting with all my might not to die.
I did not move my hands, but three times I again experienced this insupportable agony. In extremis, they let me get my breath back while I threw up the water.
The last time, I lost consciousness.