Question: During Matt Lauer’s Nov. 8 interview with former President George W. Bush, airing on NBC, Bush defended his use of waterboarding during the Iraq war. But what, exactly, is waterboarding, and why is it so controversial?
Answer: Waterboarding is a technique used in interrogations to simulate drowning. Using a particular strategy, the body is tricked into believing that it’s drowning even though technically, it isn’t.
Here’s how it works: a person is strapped to an inclined board, with his feet raised and his head lowered. His arms and legs are bound and his face is covered. Sometimes, his face is covered in cloth or cellophane. The interrogator pours water onto the person’s face. Whether or not the water actually gets into the person’s nose or mouth doesn’t matter. The combination of the incline, being bound, and having water wash over a person’s face causes a person to instinctively believe he is drowning.
Even when a person knows that he won’t drown, the involuntary reaction tells him that he is. Above, watch Vanity Fair writer Christopher Hitchens go through the experience for the purpose of a story. His reactions are startling and certainly raise a few questions.
After watching the above video, it may surprise some viewers to know that Bush was advised that waterboarding was an appropriate wartime interrogation technique. “Because the lawyer said it was legal,” he tells Lauer. “He said it did not fall within the anti-torture act. I’m not a lawyer. But you gotta trust the judgment of people around you, and I do.”
Bush says that if he could do it over, he would. “My job was to protect America. And I did,” he says, before adding, “All I ask is that people read the book,” referring to his memoir, “Decision Points,” available on shelves Nov. 9.
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