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Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Rep. William D. Delahunt Headshot

Waterboarding is Drowning, Waterboarding is Torture

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Torture and waterboarding have become part of our national dialogue, with the recent confirmation hearings of Attorney General Michael Mukasey highlighting concerns that many Americans have about how our government treats detainees. While Mr. Mukasey's careful answers to questions about whether or not waterboarding is torture left many things unclear, one fact is not: Congress must act to ensure that our government's interrogation practices reflect American values of human dignity, fairness, and the rule of law.

That is why we introduced the "American Anti-Torture Act of 2007." Our bill ensures that when interrogating detainees, all agencies follow the standards of conduct contained in the Army Field Manual. The Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 -- also known as the "McCain Amendment" -- requires the Department of Defense to adhere to the Army Field Manual; our proposal merely extends this requirement to all other agencies, including the CIA.

We are deeply committed to making America safer and to locating and disrupting terrorist networks. These are bipartisan priorities. Contrary to the tenor of this debate, they are not within the exclusive domain of either party or the administration.

We understand the critical role that intelligence plays in helping us achieve these goals. But torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, besides being contrary to American values and traditions, have not proven to be effective in obtaining actionable intelligence. Current and former members of the military have made this clear. Indeed, General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, recently wrote in an open letter to U.S. troops that the standards in the Army Field Manual, "work effectively and humanely in eliciting information from detainees." In the same letter, he stated that those that argue that torture would be more effective are "wrong."

Despite this, we often hear the argument that torture yields valuable information, and that this justifies its continued use. Ignored is the fact that we've also gotten and relied upon false information, with devastating consequences. In making the case to invade Iraq, for example, the administration relied upon the fabricated claim that Iraq trained al Qaeda members to use biochemical weapons. This claim was made after the detainee was subjected to two weeks of "enhanced" interrogation, and finally "broke" after being waterboarded and forced to stand naked in his cold cell overnight while being doused with cold water at regular intervals.

The Bush administration has long argued that it does not torture. But this is the same administration that requested and received secret legal opinions apparently concluding that techniques like waterboarding are not torture. Waterboarding is not "simulated drowning." It is drowning. It involves restraining a detainee -- usually by strapping him or her to a board -- with the head placed lower than the feet. The face or mouth is often covered or stuffed with rags and water is poured over the face to force inhalation. The victim's lungs fill with water until the procedure is stopped or the victim dies. Waterboarding has been considered torture -- even by our own government -- until recently. Indeed, we prosecuted Japanese officers for subjecting prisoners to waterboarding in World War II.

Torture is inconsistent with our democratic principles of freedom. It is un-American. And it places our service men and women, and our allies, at grave risk. We must accept that whatever we authorize and use against our enemies may be turned against us.

It is no wonder that countless current and former military officials have all called for the White House to renounce torture -- and not just through careful wordplay. It is time for Congress to clarify that waterboarding is torture and against the law. The "American Anti-Torture Act of 2007" accomplishes this by requiring adherence to the Army Field Manual, which expressly prohibits waterboarding. We were pleased when the House included our bill as part of the Orderly and Responsible Iraq Redeployment Appropriations Act, adopted on November 14, 2007. Now, it is time for the Senate to act, and join us in renouncing torture. Permitting the CIA and other government agencies to torture does not make us safer. It makes us less free.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler is the Chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and Congressman Bill Delahunt is the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight.