Christopher Hitchens underwent waterboarding to determine whether or not it’s torture. He’s pretty unequivocal in his report for Vanity Fair:
You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it “simulates” the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning—-or, rather, being drowned, albeit slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those who are applying the pressure. The “board” is the instrument, not the method.
I’m going to say this improves my opinion of Hitchens quite a bit – it’s hard to refute a personal experience like this one. But it’s kind of sad that he needed to experience waterboarding firsthand in order to conclude that it’s beyond the pale. It’s sad that Americans seem not to have (or want to have) the imagination or empathy to understand how cruel and ultimately unproductive “extreme” interrogation methods like this are. Instead our President says that all options need to be “on the table.”