‘It is way worse than I thought it would be’

‘IT IS WAY WORSE THAN I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE’…. I’m generally inclined to ignore publicity stunts, but this one might serve a greater goal.

Chicago radio talk-show host Erich Muller, aka “Mancow,” apparently decided he’d subject himself to waterboarding. His admitted goal, which Mancow conceded on the air, was to prove that waterboarding was not, in fact, torture.

This morning, Mancow, who is nationally syndicated, went into a storage room next to his radio studio. The results were predictable.

“The average person can take this for 14 seconds,” Marine Sergeant Clay South answered, adding, “He’s going to wiggle, he’s going to scream, he’s going to wish he never did this.”

With a Chicago Fire Department paramedic on hand, Mancow was placed on a 7-foot long table, his legs were elevated, and his feet were tied up.

Turns out the stunt wasn’t so funny. Witnesses said Muller thrashed on the table, and even instantly threw the toy cow he was holding as his emergency tool to signify when he wanted the experiment to stop. He only lasted 6 or 7 seconds.

“I wanted to prove it wasn’t torture,” Mancow said. “They cut off our heads, we put water on their face … I got voted to do this [by his listening audience] but I really thought, ‘I’m going to laugh this off.'”

He didn’t. In fact, he explained afterwards, “It is way worse than I thought it would be, and that’s no joke.” (Christopher Hitchens had a similar reaction last year.)

I mention this, not to give a radio host more publicity, but because it’s common to hear torture apologists insist that waterboarding is “no big deal.” This is not only absurd, it defies common sense: if this wasn’t torture, we wouldn’t have done it. The whole point is to do something so horrific that the detainee would feel compelled to give up information. If it were merely a “splash in the face,” as some on the right have argued, why would Bush administration officials think it might be effective?

What’s more, also note the circumstances/context here. Mancow was in a familiar setting; he knew his life was not being threatened; and he know he could stop the procedure at any time. Despite all of this, he still recognized this as torture, despite wanting to prove the opposite.