Waterboarding is a type of torture designed to inflict the sensation of drowning on the victim. This is typically accomplished by placing a cloth over the persons face and pouring water over that cloth. This form of torture had been used by U.S. soldiers during the War on Terror in the early 2000's. This is around the time that Christopher Hitchens' views on the matter became more pronounced. Though Hitchens didn't delve much into torture before the invasion of Iraq, his views began changing as the War on Terror commenced.
In 2004, Hitchens stated that he was on the same side as Neocons in regards to foreign policy. Throughout these years, he espoused certain views on torture used by U.S. soldiers, such as waterboarding. These methods of torture were later made illegal in 2006 for use on detainees, and in 2009 for usage during interrogations of detainees. Hitchens wrote an article in 2005 about the Iraq prison known as Abu Ghraib, wherein torture methods, such as waterboarding, were used by U.S. soldiers. Hitchens stated that "Prison conditions have improved markedly and dramatically since the arrival of U.S. coalition troops".
Though he believed that the prison was still an international byword for sadism and Yankee imperialism, he said there is a night and day difference between how it was before and after. In an article he wrote for Slate Magazine in late 2007, Hitchens stated that there was a divide between extreme interrogation and outright torture. He believed that the United States did not stoop to torture, so waterboarding wasn't torture. Following this article, he was challenged to undergo a waterboarding procedure, which he eventually agreed to.
In May of 2008, Hitchens underwent a waterboarding procedure at a U.S. Army training facility. Early on the morning of the procedure, he was grabbed from behind, his wrists slightly bound and a hood placed over his head. He was then disoriented and taken into a dark room, where he was made to lay down in the supine position on a lengthy board. During this, the hood stayed over his face. Hitchens was provided with metal objects. When he decided that he couldn't go through any more, he was told to release these objects. A white towel was then placed over his face. One of the trained soldiers took a gallon of water and began to slowly pour small increments over the towel. Hitchens lasted 17 seconds before he dropped the metal objects. He later stated that it doesn't just simulate drowning, it actually is drowning.
After Hitchens went through waterboarding, his views changed rather dramatically. For instance, in his article written for the Vanity fair a few months following his bout with waterboarding, Hitchens stated that "If waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture". Later in that same article, he also states that he believes there is no equivalency between the waterboarding techniques handed out by the U.S. and the torture methods implemented by terrorists, as he believed that there was a difference between "those who defend civilization and those who exploit its freedoms".
However, he concludes, based on arguments by Mr. Malcolm Nance, that waterboarding is a deliberate torture technique and should never be used in the same sentence as American. This is in contrast to his earlier views, where he generally believed that waterboarding could not be classified as torture, but seemingly extreme interrogation. In December of 2008, Hitchens was on Hardball with Chris Matthews, where he debated Michael Smerconish over the defense of waterboarding by former Vice President Dick Cheney. In this debate, Hitchens was asked about a ticking time bomb scenario, where waterboarding could potentially lead to information that could stop a large terrorist attack.
Hitchens was against the usage of waterboarding, while Smerconish was for it. Hitchens went on to say that the issue with using waterboarding in an extreme situation is that "The difficulty with emergency measures is when they become routine". He also believed that if the United States employed waterboarding and other torture techniques, it would morally allow terrorists to use those same techniques on U.S. prisoners of war. He also stated that waterboarding is essentially immoral and ineffective.