Rudy Giuliani vs. John McCain on Torture

06 November 2007

Waterboarding is an interrogation technique that involves either immersing a person in water, forcing water into his nose and mouth, or pouring water onto material placed over the face so that the liquid is inhaled or swallowed. As a result, the person being waterboarded experiences "the sensations of drowning: struggle, panic, breath-holding, swallowing, vomiting, taking water into the lungs and, eventually, the same feeling of not being able to breathe that one experiences after being punched in the gut." The goal is to make the person suffer until they tell you what you want to hear.

The United States has long considered this practice to constitute torture. In fact, we have convicted Japanese soldiers for torturing U.S. soldiers by waterboarding during World War II.

Despite all this, when asked whether waterboarding constitutes torture, Rudy Giuliani recently said "I'm not sure... It depends on how it’s done. It depends on the circumstances. It depends on who does it."

No, it doesn't. Whether you do it to Ghandi or Osama's limo driver, it's still torture. Whether the United States or Iran does it does not make any difference whatsoever. Whether you cause permanent brain damage or not is immaterial. You're still making a person physically suffer the sensation of drowning in order to get them to speak. You can maybe make the argument that "torture is useful in our war against terrorism because it makes people speak," but that's an entirely different issue. Its usefulness does nothing to alter the fact that it is indeed torture.

[Future Attorney General Michael Mukasey has similarly said that he can't say whether or not waterboarding is torture - but that's another story]

From Rudy Giuliani's interview with Bloomberg TV:

MR. HUNT: Let me try a couple of national security questions. Waterboard. You have noted the Congress has not outlawed it, and that you say it's not necessarily torture; it depends on the circumstances. John McCain says you are wrong and he says you haven't served in the military and have no experience in the conduct of warfare. Do you know more about torture than John McCain?

MR. GIULIANI: I can't say that I do but I do know a lot about intensive questioning and intensive questioning techniques. After all, I have had a different experience than John. John has never been - he has never run city, never run a state, never run a government. He has never been responsible as a mayor for the safety and security of millions of people, and he has never run a law enforcement agency, which I have done.

Now, intensive questioning works. If I didn't use intensive questioning, there would be a lot of mafia guys running around New York right now and crime would be a lot higher in New York than it is. Intensive question has to be used. Torture should not be used. The line between the two is a difficult one.

Comparing waterboarding to a prosecutor's "intensive questioning" of mafia suspects is beyond absurd. That is, unless Giuliani held their heads under water until they talked (which I doubt he did).

John McCain (who was tortured in Vietnam) called him out on this:
“When someone says waterboarding is similar to harsh interrogation techniques used against the mafia in New York City, they do not have enough experience to lead our military,” McCain said Sunday night at a town-hall meeting here.
I think he's got the right sentiment here, except I would replace the word "experience" with either "morality" or "honesty."

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