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Waterboarding torture - was it invented by the Catholic Church?

Torture traced back to the Spanish Inquisition

By John Mulgrew

The concept of waterboarding came to the fore several years ago with its use against terror suspects by America at Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

But while the term may have only come to public prominence in recent years, it is a dark practice that has been in use for hundreds of years.

In Northern Ireland the last man sentenced to death — Liam Holden (58) — alleged his confession of the 1972 IRA murder of a paratrooper was forced from him using the waterboarding technique. It’s the only alleged case of the method being used during the Troubles.

But it’s thought its use dates back as far as the 15th century and the Spanish Inquisition as a form of torture - similar to today’s definition - called toca.

Today the process involves the pouring of water over an individual, causing them to experience the sensation of drowning. Its use can lead to extreme pain, ‘dry’ drowning and brain damage due to oxygen deprivation.

And although the US has long considered waterboarding to be torture and a war crime, its use there can be dated back to the beginning of the 20th century.

In the US as early as 1901, a US court martial sentenced Major Edwin Glenn to 10 years hard labour for subjecting a suspected insurgent in the Philippines to the ‘water cure’.

Following the end of the second world war - US military commissions successfully prosecuted Japanese soldiers as war criminals who had subjected US prisoners to waterboarding.

Then in 1968, a US army officer was court martialled for helping to waterboard a prisoner in Vietnam.

It is believed the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia used waterboarding as torture during the 1970s — the practice documented in a painting by a former inmate at Tuol Sleng prison in the country’s capital.

In 2008 journalist Christopher Hitchens underwent the process for Vanity Fair magazine to demonstrate its severity.

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