Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Waterboarding Definition:

A criminal investigation interrogation technique whereby a person suspected of having or withholding relevant information is blindfolded and bound on their back, sometimes with the face covered with porous or nonporous material, and subjected to water poured over their mouth and nose such as to simulate drowning and to thus, under duress, elicit information.

Related Terms: Torture

The interrogation technique leaves no permanent physical sequelae.

Many international agencies and experts debate whether waterboarding is torture.

As far as admissibility of evidence is concerned, the issue ought to be moot as any information obtained under duress leaves little place for truth and, generally, encourages a dangerous relapse to an era of law enforcement which uses torture or inhuman, cruel or degrading treatment or punishment.

Boston College Law School professor Daniel Kanstroom wrote:

"Although the word waterboarding is of recent vintage, the practice is one of the oldest and most widely recognized forms of torture. This is its essence: a person is forcibly seized and restrained. He or she is then immobilized, face up, with the head tilted downward. Water is then poured into the breathing passages. The exact methods ... likely have involved placing a cloth or plastic wrap over or in a person's mouth, then pouring the water.

"As you first think of it, the practice might seem rather mild compared to other forms of torture. But the effects are dramatic and severe. The inhalation of water causes a gag reflex, from which the victim experiences what amounts to drowning and feels that death is imminent."


  • Kanstroom, Daniel, On Waterboarding: Legal Interpretation and the Continuing Struggle for Human Rights, 28 B.C. Third World L.J. 269 (2008)

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