The Instigator
Pro (for)
0 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
12 Points

Waterboarding should be prohibited.

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Post Voting Period
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after 2 votes the winner is...
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/28/2011 Category: Politics
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,041 times Debate No: 14996
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (2)
Votes (2)




I will be taking the pro position that waterboarding should be prohibited.

Waterboarding: A type of torture in which the victim is immobilized, has rags placed over their face, and has water poured onto them, which creates the sensation of drowning

Prohibited: prohibited by law or by official or accepted rules

round 1 is for definitions and to make clear the resolution.
round 2 will be opening arguments.
round 3 will be rebuttals and closing arguments.


Thanks to Pro for posting this challenge to me. It remains an interesting and controversial topic.

The Wikifolks define waterboarding as torture, but there's no agreement on that. The Wikipedia article quotes a CIA description as to what the procedure is:

"In this procedure, the individual is bound securely to an inclined bench, which is approximately four feet by seven feet. The individual's feet are generally elevated. A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes. Water is then applied to the cloth in a controlled manner. As this is done, the cloth is lowered until it covers both the nose and mouth. Once the cloth is saturated and completely covers the mouth and nose, air flow is slightly restricted for 20 to 40 seconds due to the presence of the cloth... During those 20 to 40 seconds, water is continuously applied from a height of twelve to twenty-four inches. After this period, the cloth is lifted, and the individual is allowed to breathe unimpeded for three or four full breaths... The procedure may then be repeated."

That's what it is, and that's all we need to debate it. How it is characterized is a separate matter.

The non-opinionated Merriam-Webster dictionary definition is:

waterboarding: an interrogation technique in which water is forced into a detainee's mouth and nose so as to induce the sensation of drowning

Note that in the CIA description, water is not forced into the detainees mouth and nose, but is rather run over the person's covered face. The CIA definition is the one relevant to our debate.

Whether waterboarding meets the US legal definition of torture has been deliberately left unclear by Congress. Congress knew for many years that waterboarding was being used by the CIA, but they never acted to outlaw it or define it as torture. As one commentator put it, "The DOJ legal analysis was the best effort of front-line lawyers in the aftermath of a massive attack on the United States. ... They are the lawmakers, and chose --even when House and Senate were controlled by Democrats from January 2007 to the present-- to avoid passing a law bringing clarity to the very gray areas of the law of interrogation."

I accept Pro's definition of "prohibited."

Some other definitions may be of use during the debate:

punishment a : suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution b : a penalty inflicted on an offender through judicial procedure

interrogate: To examine by questioning formally or officially.

rendition: (n.) handing over prisoners to countries where torture is allowed

ticking time bomb problem: A situation in which a detainee knows information that would enable preventing a disastrous event or events, where the timeliness of the information is critical to the preventing it from occurring. [This is my definition, which I think reflects general usage. I couldn't find a succinct formal definition on the web.]

This debate is about whether waterboarding, whether called torture or not, should ever be legally allowed for use in the United States as part of an interrogation. Pro will argue that there are no circumstances where waterboarding should be legal. I will argue that there are some circumstances where it should be legal.
Debate Round No. 1


"ticking time bomb problem: A situation in which a detainee knows information that would enable preventing a disastrous event or events, where the timeliness of the information is critical to the preventing it from occurring."

there is no evidence to show that an answer given by a detainee being waterboarded is real or whether that individual is just trying to postpone the feeling of drowning.

Waterboarding causes incredible duress in the victim by causing the victim to believe he is about to die. The victim will usually say anything just to make it stop. CIA members who were waterboarded as part of their interrogation lasted an average of 14 seconds. This is the problem with highly stressful interrogation and torture techniques. Causing enough stress or pain to an individual will make him/her admit to anything.


Waterboarding should be used when innocent lives are at stake in a ticking time bomb problem situation. Suppose terrorists have hidden a nuclear bomb somewhere in New York City. One of the terrorists is detained and there is good reason to believe he knows where the bomb is located. The objective is to obtain the information from him in time to stop the detonation. I claim that it would be immoral not to use waterboarding under those circumstances, because the potential is for saving many innocent lives, and he worst case for the detainee is that he is terrorized temporarily, but not permanently harmed.

A frequent debate topic is whether it is morally justified to kill one innocent person to save the lives of many others. That's debatable. However, our question is whether it is justified to subject a terrorist to temporary discomfort to save the lives of many citizens.

The case of a nuclear weapon is extreme, but it is a valid hypothetical to demonstrate the principle. Waterboarding was actually used by the CIA only three times. In one case, a plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge was uncovered and prevented.

The conditions for using waterboarding ought to be as follows:

1. It is to be only used by trained CIA interrogators, never by the military or the police.

2. The detainee must be certified by an attending physician as unlikely to suffer permanent harm.

3. The objective is to get information that will save lives.

4. Either the President or a Judge appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate must issue a warrant based upon a showing probable cause that the detainee knows the information sought and it is probable that multiple lives are at stake.

Pro objects that waterboarding is so effective that people will confess to anything. However, a confession is never sought. Only information is sought and it is verifiable, because it is used to prevent the "ticking time bomb."

Requiring a warrant by the President or the judiciary prevents indiscriminate use without good reason.

Waterboarding unquestionably produces time-critical information needed to save lives, and that information could not be obtained by other means.

Waterboarding of Kalid Sheik Muhammad "— led to the discovery- of a KSM plot, the "Second Wave," "to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airline into" a building in Los Angeles," In the three cases that waterboarding was used on terrorists, Al Qaida members Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, it always worked and the information obtained was verified. [1.] Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT), and ultimately waterboarding (in the three cases):

"produced 3,000 of the 6,000 critical counter-terror intelligence reports only after normal techniques had proved fruitless; used on Zubaydah revealed KSM's identity as a mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks; KSM ratted out a number of mass-murderers including Hambali; Hambali's brother ratted out a cell bent on "9/11 Wave 2" on the West Coast; Zubaydah also revealed Padilla and his plan to detonate a simplistic dirty bomb in Washington, DC" [1]

Former CIA operative John Kiriakou also told CNN:

"The former agent, who said he participated in the Abu Zubayda interrogation but not his waterboarding, said the CIA decided to waterboard the al Qaeda operative only after he was "wholly uncooperative" for weeks and refused to answer questions. ... All that changed -- and Zubayda reportedly had a divine revelation -- after 30 to 35 seconds of waterboarding, Kiriakou said he learned from the CIA agents who performed the technique. ... The terror suspect, who is being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, reportedly gave up information that indirectly led to the the 2003 raid in Pakistan yielding the arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, an alleged planner of the September 11, 2001, attacks, Kiriakou said. ... The CIA was unaware of Mohammed's stature before the Abu Zubayda interrogation, the former agent said."

Author Marc Theisen independently verified Kiriakou's claims, "And in Courting Disaster, I meticulously document the evidence for the efficacy of the CIA interrogation program — based not on Kirakou's claims, but on the testimony of the actual interrogators, interviews with top CIA and other intelligence officials, the evidence presented in the CIA inspector general's report, and other top-secret documents declassified by the Obama administration."

The alternative to waterboarding is rendition. The policy of the Clinton Administration was to turn over detainees to other countries [] who would use torture to extract information. The Bush Administration changed the policy to use EIT, including waterboarding in the extreme, in order to improve the reliability of the information being obtained by poorly trained foreign interrogators, and also to prevent the severe torture used. The Obama Administration has returned to a policy of rendition.

Waterboarding is certainly harsh, but it produces no lasting physical harm or serious mental harm. It is used in the training of CIA operatives and special forces personnel. A fair number of journalists have volunteered to be waterboarded, so they can write about the experience. Those in include Kaj Larsen and Christopher Hitchins They report a horrible experience, but they would not have volunteered if they thought it would seriously injure them, and it did not. How many other forms of "torture" has a list of journalists volunteering for it? I know of none.

Waterboarding should only be used in extreme circumstances of a "ticking time bomb" that threatens many lives, and then only under warrant and by trained CIA interrogators. It is justified by saving lives. It would be immoral not to use the technique if that is the only hope to save the victims.

Famed liberal lawyer and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz supports the morality of using waterboarding under presidential warrant. He says, "If the president of the United States thinks it's absolutely essential to defend the lives of thousands of people, he ought to be on the line. He ought to have to sign a torture warrant ..."

The resolution is negated.
Debate Round No. 2


socialpinko forfeited this round.


I cite my opponent for bad conduct in forfeiting. He initiated the debate.

Pro's main argument was that information obtained by waterboarding was unreliable and could not be checked. That's wrong, because I have advocated that waterboarding only be used in ticking time bomb situations. In those situations the information can be checked.

I advocated waterboarding only be used subject to a Presidential or judicial warrant that verifies the necessity, and never by the police or military. Waterboarding is unquestionably severe, but it causes no permanent mental or physical harm when done correctly by trained interrogators. Journalists volunteer to try it. Morality demands that waterboarding be used to save the lives of innocent people.
Debate Round No. 3
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by RoyLatham 7 years ago
Waterboarding as practiced by the CIA does not use water forced into the nose and throat. I think that makes a difference, because harsh interrogation methods that produce no permanent mental or physical harm ought to be allowed under certain circumstances, so I would legally classify those as not torture. Those that produce lasting harm I would classify as torture. Even so, I think there are some really extreme circumstances where torture is justified to get information. Good debate topic.
Posted by Shtookah 7 years ago
"waterboarding: an interrogation technique in which water is forced into a detainee's mouth and nose so as to induce the sensation of drowning" Roy you wouldn't consider that torture?
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by Cliff.Stamp 7 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Forfeit, but even without that, strong argument from Con.
Vote Placed by J.Kenyon 7 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Gotta finish what ya started, man...