Tuesday, May 26, 2009 | 2:04 a.m.
The moralizing about waterboarding displayed in William F. Brennan’s Sunday letter to the editor is an example of one of the more distressing arguments regarding the debate on torture being forwarded by conservatives. Brennan argues that waterboarding, harsh as it may be, does not involve “extreme physical pain” and/or “intense suffering.” Therefore, waterboarding cannot be defined as torture.
This would be a reasonable argument if waterboarding did indeed not involve extreme pain or suffering for the person being waterboarded, and if after waterboarding, the victim remained whole and unharmed, but that isn’t entirely true.
In an April 30 commentary in the Los Angeles Times, detainee Abu Zubaydah’s co-counsel, Joseph Margulies, writes about how Zubaydah’s preexisting mental and memory problems were exacerbated by waterboarding. Zubaydah now suffers from seizures, headaches and permanent brain damage.
In Sept. 25, 2007, testimony before the Senate, Dr. Allen Keller, director of the Bellevue/New York University Program for Survivors of Torture, described the short-term and long-term effects of waterboarding: drowning, heart attack, and later depression, panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder, all of which could easily qualify as “intense suffering.”
The debate over waterboarding is ultimately one of semantics, though. I am tired of the childish self-justification I see in defenses of “enhanced interrogation,” the finger-pointing and the whining arguments of “At least we’re not as bad as the bad guys — the real torturers — are.”
We should not let the injustices of others color our own actions and morals. Instead, we should look in the mirror and ask ourselves whether we can use waterboarding as well as other techniques including genital mutilation (see the case of Binyam Mohamed) and still maintain our moral standing as a free and just country.