Lieberman Defends Waterboarding: It’s ‘Not Like Putting Burning Coals On People’s Bodies’

Yesterday, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) “reluctantly acknowledged” that he doesn’t believe waterboarding is torture. According to the Connecticut Post, Lieberman downplayed the severity of the waterboarding because it doesn’t inflict permanent physical damage:

In the worst case scenario — when there is an imminent threat of a nuclear attack on American soil — Lieberman said that the president should be able to certify the use of waterboarding on a detainee suspected of knowing vital details of the plot.

“You want to be able to use emergency tech to try to get the information out of that person,” Lieberman said. […]

“It is not like putting burning coals on people’s bodies. The person is in no real danger. The impact is psychological,” Lieberman said.


Lieberman appears to be mimicking his close friend Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) pandering to the right wing. Like Lieberman, McCain voted against banning waterboarding this week, even though he had previously called the technique “very exquisite torture.”

Until recently, Lieberman had also raised objections to the Bush administration’s interrogation practices:

— In 2006, Lieberman said that “the most effective way to get information from a suspect is persistent, long-term questioning. ‘If terrorists are tried and convicted of committing a terrorist act, they should be subject to the death penalty,’ he said.” [AP, 9/18/06]

— As recently as December, Lieberman said, “Obviously, waterboarding is a rough, to put it mildly, technique.” He added that he hadn’t “resolved absolutely” whether waterboarding should be allowed to “gather information that would stop an imminent terrorist attack.” [CNS News, 12/12/07]

To be classified as torture, a procedure does not have to inflict permanent physical damage. In fact, psychological torture can be worse. Former Navy airman Richard E. Mezo was subjected to “water torture” and concluded, “Pulling out my fingernails or even cutting off a finger would have been preferable. At least if someone had attacked my hands, I would have had to simply tolerate pain. But drowning is another matter.”

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