Thursday, April 23, 2009


I'm not saying this in a gleeful way: It'll never happen, but it would be good for America if Sean Hannity felt he couldn't back down from the offer he made on his show last night to his guest Charles Grodin:

GRODIN: ... Have you ever been waterboarded?

HANNITY: No, but Ollie North has.

GRODIN: Would you consent to be waterboarded? We can waterboard you?


GRODIN: Are you busy on Sunday?

HANNITY: I'll do it for charity. I'll let you do it. I'll do it for the troops' families.

Hannity can joke about it because no right-winger is going to hold him to it, and anyone who tries to pressure him to make good on this offer can easily be portrayed as a gleefully sadistic ideological enemy.

Well, I'll run that risk. I want Hannity to do this not because I'd enjoy watching him suffer but because I think he thinks he can shrug waterboarding off as the fraternity prank he and his ideological soul mates think it is -- and I don't think he can. I think a lot of people would learn a lot if he actually went through this.

You may know that one of Hannity's fellow Bush cheerleaders, Christopher Hitchens, had himself waterboarded in the SERE school manner, just to learn what it was like. But have you seen the video? Here it is:

In the video and in his article, Hitchens doesn't equivocate -- the article is titled "Believe Me, It's Torture." Watch the actual process in the video, starting shortly after the three-minute mark: Hitchens is strapped down, his head an airway-constricting hood, then a towel is placed over his face to constrict his airways further. Starting at about 3:16, water is poured on his face, by my count, six discrete times. By 3:33, he's had enough. He drops the metal object that's been placed in his hand, a signal that he can't endure this anymore.

He lasts a total of 17 seconds.

Let me remind you about the U.S. torture regime:

Steven G Bradbury, May 10 2005, p.42:

In SERE training, the technique is confined to at most two applications (and usually only one) of no more than 40 seconds each. Here, there may be two sessions, of up to two hours each, during a 24-hour period, and each session may include multiple applications, of which six may last 10 seconds or longer (but none more than 40 seconds), for a total time of application of as much as 12 minutes in a 24-hour period. Furthermore, the waterboard may be used up to five days during the 30-day period for which it is approved

Steven G Bradbury, May 10 2005 p.41:

51. The IG Report noted that in some cases the waterboard was used with far greater frequency than initially indicated.... (”The waterboard technique was different from the technique described in the DOJ opinion and used in the SERE training. The difference was in the manner in which the detainee’s breathing was obstructed. At the SERE school and in the DoJ opinion, the subject’s airflow is disrupted by by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the Interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the Agency interrogator… applies large volumes of water to a cloththat covered the detainee’s mouth and nose. One of the psychologists/interrogators acknowledged that the Agency’s use of the technique is different than that used by in SERE training because it is ‘for real’ and is ‘more poignant and convincing’.”) ...

At 3:38, once his hood has been removed, you see Hitchens desperately gasping for air. He writes that he did undergo a second session -- but it didn't leave him feeling any more able to withstand the procedure:

And so then I said, with slightly more bravado than was justified, that I’d like to try it one more time. There was a paramedic present who checked my racing pulse and warned me about adrenaline rush. An interval was ordered, and then I felt the mask come down again. Steeling myself to remember what it had been like last time, and to learn from the previous panic attack, I fought down the first, and some of the second, wave of nausea and terror but soon found that I was an abject prisoner of my gag reflex. The interrogators would hardly have had time to ask me any questions, and I knew that I would quite readily have agreed to supply any answer. I still feel ashamed when I think about it.

This much waterboarding -- done under controlled conditions and at Hitchens's own request -- had aftereffects:

Also, in case it's of interest, I have since woken up trying to push the bedcovers off my face, and if I do anything that makes me short of breath I find myself clawing at the air with a horrible sensation of smothering and claustrophobia.

Hitchens adds:

I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: "If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong." Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.

Sean Hannity is a smirky, dismissive overgrown frat boy -- or at least he is now. After a bit of this? I don't think even he could maintain his sneering, dismissive persona. I think this would teach him humility. I think it would be a moral lesson. And I'm sorry, therefore, that he'll never actually learn that lesson.

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