In a November 5 National Review Online column -- "Waterboarding Has Its Benefits" -- contributing editor Deroy Murdock wrote that "[w]aterboarding is something of which every American should be proud," adding that "[t]hough clearly uncomfortable, waterboarding loosens lips without causing permanent physical injuries (and unlikely even temporary ones)." In fact, according to medical experts on the effect of torture, waterboarding results in both short and long-term negative consequences for mental and physical health, including possible risk of death, as Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented.
In his column, Murdock asserted that "[w]aterboarding makes tight-lipped terrorists talk. At least three major al-Qaeda leaders reportedly have been waterboarded, most notably Khalid Sheik Mohammed." Murdock further wrote:
Appropriately enough, waterboarding is not used on American citizens suspected of tax evasion, sexual harassment, or bank robbery. Waterboarding is used on foreign Islamic-extremist terrorists, captured abroad, who would love nothing more than to blast innocent men, women, and children into small, bloody pieces. Some of them already have done so.
Waterboarding has worked quickly, causing at least one well-known subject to break down and identify at least six other high-profile, highly bloodthirsty associates before they could commit further mass murder beyond the 3,192 people they already killed and the 7,715 they already wounded.
Though clearly uncomfortable, waterboarding loosens lips without causing permanent physical injuries (and unlikely even temporary ones). If terrorists suffer long-term nightmares about waterboarding, better that than more Americans crying themselves to sleep after their loved ones have been shredded by bombs or baked in skyscrapers.
In short, there is nothing "repugnant" about waterboarding.
Contrary to Murdock's assertions, Allen S. Keller, M.D., director of the Bellevue Hospital Center/New York University Program for Survivors of Torture, said in written testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: "To think that abusive methods, including the enhanced interrogation techniques [in which Keller included waterboarding], are harmless psychological ploys is contradictory to well established medical knowledge and clinical experience. These methods are intended to break the prisoners down, to terrify them and cause harm to their psyche, and in so doing result in lasting harmful health consequences." He said of waterboarding specifically, "Long term effects include panic attacks, depression and PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder]," and said it poses a "real risk of death."
Keller described waterboarding as follows:
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.
Finally, Murdock's description of the congressional wrangling over Michael Mukasey, President Bush's nominee for attorney general, as "not quite torture, but it sure has been painful," echoed CNN's recent portrayal of the process as "political torture," and the description, by Time magazine's Ana Marie Cox, of former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales' questioning by Congress in August as "legislative waterboarding."
A similar column -- "Three Cheers for waterboarding!" -- bearing Murdock's byline appeared on the Scripps Howard News Service website on November 1; HumanEvents.com on November 2; and on the Sacramento Bee's website on November 4.