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Should Waterboarding be used in interrogation

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/15/2014 Category: Miscellaneous
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,690 times Debate No: 54799
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (3)
Votes (1)




I believe that waterboarding should be used against high-threat targets as a means of interrogation. I believe that it is effective and there is research saying that it is not physically harmful. It is more of a mental torture; it simulates drowning.


It is counter productive to torture people as a means of interrogation. It has been clearly demonstrated throughout the centuries that torture of any kind is not only completely ineffective but actually hampers the pursuit of truth by interjecting the bias of the torturer into the body of information. I.E. If you torture me, I will tell you whatever you want to hear in order to make the torture stop, regardless of veracity.

There is no perceivable difference in physically harmful torture versus mental torture. Both elicit the same human responses, emotions, and outcomes.

Torture has been shown to be effective in the exact opposite of interrogation, mind control. Interrogation is the extraction of unbiased information from a subject. Mind control is pure injection of bias into a subject.

I doubt that there is any credible research into the physiological effects of waterboarding upon humans. Such an experiment would require extensive human testing that would be considered illegal because of the mere potential for harmful effects or lasting emotional trauma.

Engaging in torture of any kind is quite simply the reflection of a psychopathic tendency in the mind of the torturer, and any justification of its deployment should be viewed as nothing more than an attempt to obfuscate said tendency from the world of normal, empathetic, humans.
Debate Round No. 1


To address your first point, I do not see how it has been "clearly demonstrated throughout the centuries that torture of any kind is not only completely ineffective but actually hampers the pursuit of truth." Not to long ago 911 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded several times for extensive periods of time and he revealed information that saved hundreds of lives and also the information was credited with saving Library Tower.

There is an obvious difference in physical v. mental torture. Physical torture, one comes out with scars, burns, missing limbs, but mental/emotional torture only leaves memories and fear. Waterboarding now has an aspect of fear that comes along with it; some people will even confess at the mention of possible waterboarding. Water boarding is effective also because it handles fear over physical pain, fear is powerful.

Also, I noticed that in your argument you referred to water boarding as "torture", Here is the definition straight from Merriam Webster dictionary, "the act of causing severe physical pain as a form of punishment or as a way to force someone to do or say something." Notice it mentions nothing about mental pain.

Take a look at I think we can both agree that Time magazine is a pretty credible source. It says that the lasting effects of waterboarding are psychological. This infuses fear into the victim and they will refer to waterboarding with fear, others will see the effects and their interrogation will hopefully be finished before waterboarding is used.

When you say "psychopathic tendency in the mind" do you mean that trying to reveal information that can prevent thousands of deaths and family splits is "psychopathic"? Also if the suspect would cooperate, then it would not even get to the stage of waterboarding, by not cooperating they are submitting themselves to another level of pain. They know its coming, so they can easily avoid it by cooperating. Also, they must have done something to get the attention of the CIA or another government investigation team in the first place, so it was their choice to commit their crime.


As I alluded earlier, there is NO evidence whatsoever to support the case that torture of any kind (more on definitions later) is effective.

The Library Tower plot was foiled in 2002. Kahlid Sheik Mohammed (KSM) was not captured until 2003. It is therefore impossible that any information KSM provided under torture could have been of any assistance to the foiling of Library Tower. See below.

Furthermore you dramatically understate the extent to which KSM was subjected to the waterboarding technique. He was waterboarded no less than 183 times over a 30 day period (see link below), with a yield of 0 incidents of verifiable intelligence data that can be attributed to the use of this technique. This is hardly the picture of an effective interrogation method.

The US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence conducted a 3 year investigation into the use of and justification for so called 'enhanced interrogation methods' that included waterboarding. Their investigators, despite having access to classified CIA materials, could find no evidence that such methods were effective.

They later declassified the CIA's internal report on the subject which shows that there was even questions of effectiveness within the very agency most actively championing there use. (See my final sentence in round 1). Here is the CIA OIG report:

Additionally former FBI Special Agent Ali H Soufan, an FBI counter terrorism, interrogations, and Al-Queda expert, testified before the senate committee and blasted the use of these methods. He not only criticized their effectiveness but,..........wait for it.....claimed that they interfered with the collection of valuable intelligence that was already being gathered by he and his fellow actual interrogation experts!

He re stated his arguments before the Senate Select Committee in an OP ED in the NY Times. You can read it here:;

As you can clearly see, the use of waterboarding can in no way be seen as an effective program.

Now, I will briefly discuss definitions of torture. I don't want to spend too much time on this because it is actually relevant to the question of the effectiveness of waterboarding, however I think it is important to correctly categorize this technique for the greater debate and the edification of our viewers.

You have already admitted in round 1 that waterboarding is torture. I quote, " It [waterboarding] is more of a mental torture; it simulates drowning." The word "torture" is the subject of the sentence, the word "mental" is the adjective ascribed to the subject. You could replace "mental" with any other adjective, such as, 'lite,' 'evil,' or 'physical' and it would not alter the subject, merely describe it.

You state in round 2 that physical torture is different from mental torture because physical torture "comes out with scars, burns, missing limbs,..." This is however not always the case. For example, electrical shock was a very popular method of torture used in another CIA program during the 1950s-1970s (and beyond?) called MK-ULTRA. This was an experimental mind control program. Electric shock was preferred because the pain could be graded easily in voltage and it left no physical traces.

Also, I am forced to point out that you did not include the entire Merriam Webster definition in your round 2 post. Here is Webster's full definition with bold text added by me:

"1tor"ture noun \G2;toM5;r-chər: the act of causing severe physical pain as a form of punishment or as a way to force someone to do or say something

: something that causes mental or physical suffering : a very painful or unpleasant experience

Full Definition of TORTURE

a : anguish of body or mind : agony
b : something that causes agony or pain
: the infliction of intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding) to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure
: distortion or over-refinement of a meaning or an argument : straining"

"Torture." Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 16 May 2014. <;.

But why should we use a layman definition when we could go to an expert source for a more full definition. Here is how the American Psychological Association defines torture in a 2006 Resolution Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

"[T]he term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted upon a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official [e.g., governmental, religious, political, organizational] capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to lawful sanctions [in accordance with both domestic and international law]"

Here is the full text:

As can be clearly seen in both definitions provided above, mental torture still falls within the broader category of torture. Therefore waterboarding is clearly seen as torture.

Before we leave the topic of the definition of torture, I will direct your attention to a quote from another expert who testified before the Senate Select Committee. Allen Keller, who was at the time, the director of the Bellevue/New York University School of Medicine Program for Survivors of Torture gave the following statement to the committee:

"Water-boarding or mock drowning, where a prisoner is bound to an inclined board and water is poured over their face, inducing a terrifying fear of drowning clearly can result in immediate and long-term health consequences. As the prisoner gags and chokes, the terror of imminent death is pervasive, with all of the physiologic and psychological responses expected, including an intense stress response, manifested by tachycardia (rapid heart beat) and gasping for breath. There is a real risk of death from actually drowning or suffering a heart attack or damage to the lungs from inhalation of water. Long term effects include panic attacks, depression and PTSD. I remind you of the patient I described earlier who would panic and gasp for breath whenever it rained even years after his abuse."

his complete statement to the committee can be viewed here:

Fear of waterboarding is not the same as being tortured therefore it is not pertinent to this debate. Fear can be induced without the use of torture techniques.

You posed the following question to me: "When you say "psychopathic tendency in the mind" do you mean that trying to reveal information that can prevent thousands of deaths and family splits is "psychopathic"?"

My answer is no. psychopathy by definition is characterized by the absence of empathy. Therefore it would be impossible for a psychopath to give a flying flip about preventing thousands of deaths etc. They would be capable of obfuscating their real intent (sadism) by making up an excuse to justify their behavior to normal people.
Debate Round No. 2


I would first like to mention that the second article you gave in your response is crazy, in the end they mention that water boarding KSM was more of a waste of water.... just let that soak in, they do not care about the person, but about the water being wasted; I think that is cruel and inhumane. Back to the topic, his torture revealed that it was him that planned/supported the attack, even if it never went thru, the CIA and the rest of the world could know that that specific threat was over and they could have someone to arrest and charge of the crime. It gave more of the feeling of security to everyone.

Addressing your statement saying, "a yield of 0 incidents of verifiable intelligence data that can be attributed to the use of this technique." I quote from former U.S. Director of National Intelligence, Dennis C. Blair; "high value information came from interrogations in which these methods (enhanced interrogation techniques) were used"

The site above also tells us that enhanced interrogation techniques where useful and did provide high-value information. In fact some of Obama's own people who helped make the technique illegal say that it was useful and did in fact provide the US with critical information. keep in mind that just because we don't know of any more information that was confessed, it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. We don't know of everything the government knows about terrorist groups and there may well be more information that has not been released to the public... yet.

Now, I was looking around for different methods of electrical torture and the most common one that I found was "the parrilla" This method consisted of strapping the suspect to a metal frame and sending electrical shocks thru them. What I found interesting was that you said "... it left no physical traces." actually electrical surges caused the suspect's muscles to contract in a very violent way, this sometimes even led to bone fractures. Here is the direct quote from the site below: "Sometimes the violent muscle contractions in the restrained limbs caused them to fracture. Some prisoners even died." I don't know about you, but I think bone fractures and even death are obvious "physical traces" in a body.

About the definition on torture, I am sorry I did not find the entire definition, I was using a physical dictionary I had on my desk. I should have looked up the most recent definition and again I apologize for being careless. Back to the topic though, whether it is know as torture or not, it does not take away from the effectiveness of the technique.

I would like to know how true fear can be induced into some people as cruel as the terrorist groups. And from your point of view I assume other ways of inducing fear will not include pain.

As a response to your second paragraph, I thank you for restraining from cursing, you have my respect. Now, You mention that the people actually performing the water boarding have no empathy; again I pose another question to you, do these people who have committed their life to ruining and ending other's lives really deserve empathy? Do they deserve to get what they have failed to show and give in their own murderous and malicious ways? And you refer to the people being tested "normal people" and the people who are risking their life for justice "psychopaths?" Sir, I think your mentality is flipped if you refer to terrorists and other malicious people as normal people, while also calling the men and women who risk their life to protect the lives of innocent people as psychopaths.

Still, although I disagree with many of your points, you have my respect and have proved yourself a worthy opponent. Thank You for making my first debate here an enjoyable one and a learning experience. I hope I have your respect also and I hope we agree to disagree without any hard feelings. Again, Thank You.


I am not sure why you would think that Timothy Noah's article referenced above, to support the fact that the waterboarding of KSM was a futile waste, is "crazy." It is well documented and coherent in its analysis of the timeline surrounding the Library Tower Plot and the torture of KSM. It is also supported by the Bush Administration Archive document that I provided in Tandem. I do not think that the Author was suggesting that the water wasted was more important than the human suffering caused by torture. Here is the exact quote from the article:

"If foiling the Library Tower plot was the reason to water-board Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, then that water-boarding was more than cruel and unjust. It was a waste of water."

If I may be so bold as to provide my interpretation of this statement it is as follows: The waterboarding of KSM was not instrumental nor even helpful in the foiling of the Library Tower plot, which means that it amounted to nothing more than government sanctioned cruelty and wasted water in the process.

I am well aware of Admiral Blair's claims regarding the "High Value" information that was allegedly obtained. They are nearly identical to claims made by several other high ranking officials from the Bush Administration in 2003-2005 when the program was in full swing. By 2009, the program was offically ended, and still to this day the government has yet to produce one shred of evidence that the data gathered as a result of torture saved even a single American life.

I understand that there are valid reasons for state secrecy. They are few, but they do exist. Hiding mistakes and crimes from the people is not one of them. 'Saving face' and avoiding embarrassment are not good reasons either. It is unacceptable for the government, while hiding behind 'national security' and producing no evidence, to make fantastic claims that they have some how found the secret to making torture an effective technique for interrogation, when no one else throughout all of the history of human civilization has been able to do so. Not the Nazis, not the Inquisition, not the Stalinists, not the Maoists, not the Khmer Rouge, not Vlad the Impaler, not the Roman Ceasars, not Pinochet, not Batiste, not Castro, not Kim Jung Un, not any of the petty little psychopathic warlords, kings, and dictators from the present day all the way back to the dawn of civilization could ever make it effective for the purposes of interrogation. And, good lord, did they ever try. All of them always make the same pathetic excuse: 'We have to do it to protect you. We promise we will only do this to really bad people, and only when necessary to protect you and save souls." It has always been a lie, and it is still a lie today.

Here I will rest my case on the question of effectiveness. If you still have a question as to the effectiveness I would urge you to again read the article above by FBI Special Agent Ali H Soufan in my round 2 post. It is a concise and crystal clear report from a true expert. So here is my final analysis for the purposes of this debate:

There is 0 evidence to uphold the effectiveness of waterboarding, or any other form of torture, for the purposes of interrogation. Qualitative evidence from reliable, expert sources indicate that it is counterproductive to the overall interrogation process. "------>Therefore, waterboarding should not be used in interrogation.

I will take just one more moment of your time to attempt the clarify the role of psychopathy since there seems to be some confusion around my position in this regard. When I refer to those psychopaths that are the torturer, I am not necessarily saying that the person pouring the water over the subjects face must have psychopathic tendencies. I think it is probably likely that most of them do because the CIA and Military are excellent at psychological profiling and would be capable of placing that type of person in the job role. There is another kind of person who would also do the job, and that would be someone who could be completely convinced, without independent thought, in the necessity of the work. This second type of person may not be psychopathic themselves, and if they are not would most likely suffer great emotional trauma as a result of the experience regardless of their belief in it's necessity. This type of person would require the direction and oversight of a true psychopath in order to ensure that their empathy remains suppressed while they conduct torture.

In fact it would require psychopathy and domination of normal people by psychopathic individuals at several points within the decision tree to commit torture, all the way up to the very highest strata of government, and not just down in the actual interrogation room. In fact it comes right back to our own living rooms. WE are the normal people I am refering to, not the subjects like KSM who is most likely also pyschopathic. WE are ultimately the ones who the psychopaths must deceive and dominate in order in order conduct atrocities of any kind. It becomes a vicious cycle of: Atrocity by Psychopath----->Fear within the Normal People------->Deception and domination of the now vulnerable normal people by Psychopath------->Atrocity by Psychopath..........etc ad nauseum. The essential or pure psychopath is the only true predator of humanity.

What really gets to me; what really breaks my heart, is that now because our own gullibility and our own shameful inability to stop it in time, the United States of America has been added to the atrocious list state sanctioned torturers I mentioned above. The United States of America is supposed to be sacred! We the people are never supposed to act so afraid that we turn over our rights, our values, and our sacred honor! So now I leave you with this final question: If it is possible to redeem ourselves, would not the first step be to acknowledge our collective failure to break the psychopathic cycle of fear and domination and resolve to not let it happen again?

Thank you for taking the time to engage in this important debate. You have been an excellent opponent and have defended your position with integrity and class. I have enjoyed this debate and the time that we have shared, though we have never met, thinking together about this truly profound topic. I have learned much through the process of this debate and for that I am grateful to you. Godspeed.
Debate Round No. 3
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by KevQuixote 7 years ago

Biased how? I would debate this subject with you if you want. Let me finish up this one first though.
Posted by ararmer1919 7 years ago
I strongly disagree with cons stance that engaging in torture is the reflection of "psychopathic tendency of the torturer". Thus is clearly false as Pro has already suggested at and is also unfounded and biased.
Posted by Gs325jcbd 7 years ago
Interesting debate
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by bladerunner060 7 years ago
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: For the most part, this debate hinged on effeciveness. And Pro never supported it as effective except through assertion, and link to assertion. Con showed that there was no evidence that there was any effectiveness to the use of waterboarding. Pro's best response was that an official once said there was. Con points out that that is not real evidence and that, indeed, the case. This is definitely a case of absence of evidence being evidence of absence. As such, arguments to Con. Nothing else seemed to warrant scoring. As always, happy to clarify this RFD.

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