Thursday, August 7, 2008

Waterboarding at Coney Island

An article this morning reports that waterboarding has been brought to America, with a twist. People at Coney Island in New York now have the opportunity to see waterboarding performed firsthand, as demonstrated by robotic actors.

According to the article, the waterboarding being demonstrated is faithful to how many claim it is being done by the United States military; the robot actors include a hooded man and a person dressed in an orange jumpsuit with water being poured over his head. People watch through barred windows, and are able to see the disputed procedure by inserting one dollar into a bill acceptor near this window.

Signs describing the demonstration as a “Waterboard Thrill Ride” and using Spongebob Squarepants (stating that "It don't Gitmo better!") as advertisement would seem to be aimed at downplaying the seriousness of this interrogation method. However, the aim of the creator is completely the opposite. In the article, Steve Powers that he wants “people to understand the psychological ramifications of this."

He also claims that people are able to see the physical pain inflicted, even through the barred windows they watch through. Two patrons interviewed by the article seem to agree that this display was shocking, which I imagine is what the creator wanted. However, while one of the individuals interviewed is glad that people are gaining a better understanding of waterboarding, the other seems to write off the procedure as just another horrific incident of war that people don’t need to see.

What seems good about this display is the fact that it appears to respect these divergent viewpoints. It is not being forced upon anybody, and in fact can only be viewed by a person willingly inserting money at the display. For those who do not wish to view the display, they merely have to keep walking. Also, it appears that the fact that people watch through barred windows would make the display private enough that those happening to pass by would not be able to view it unless they really tried.

Bringing this practice to the attention of people in this way is very interesting. Obviously, by using robots nobody is actually being hurt in this demonstration. Still, it seems that the message is getting across. Many who have read about waterboarding can now get a more concrete handle on what actually happens and potential long-term effects. By providing the choice to people to view this display, I think that a valuable service is provided in educating people as to this practice.

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