In modern times the waterboarding technique is known to have been used by military and intelligence forces during the Philippine-American War at the turn of the 20th century, the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962), the Vietnam War (1959-1975), and the U.S.-Iraq War at the beginning of the 21st century. In some cases interrogators or military personnel who employed waterboarding were prosecuted for their actions. Law enforcement officials in the United States have also faced prosecution for waterboarding people in their custody. Some authorities on torture believe that torture techniques leaving no physical trace, such as waterboarding, tend to be used in democratic rather than authoritarian countries because there is more incentive in a democratic country to conceal the torture.
Victims of waterboarding have testified or have left written accounts of the experience. One of the most famous is by the French journalist Henri Alleg, a sympathizer with the Algerian independence movement. In his 1958 book The Question, Alleg wrote:
“Together they picked up the plank to which I was still attached and carried me into the kitchen. Once there they rested the top of the plank, where my head was, against the sink. Two or three Paras [French paratroopers] held the other end. Lo__ [one of the interrogators] fixed a rubber tube to the metal tap which shone just above my face. He wrapped my head in a rag, while De___ [another interrogator] said to him: ‘Put a wedge in his mouth.’ With the rag already over my face, Lo__ held my nose. He tried to jam a piece of wood between my lips in such a way that I could not close my mouth or spit out the tube.
“When everything was ready, he said to me: ‘When you want to talk, all you have to do is move your fingers.’ And he turned on the tap. The rag was soaked rapidly. Water flowed everywhere: in my mouth, in my nose, all over my face. But for a while I could still breathe in some small gulps of air. I tried, by contracting my throat, to take in as little water as possible and to resist suffocation by keeping air in my lungs for as long as I could. But I couldn’t hold on for more than a few moments. I had the impression of drowning, and a terrible agony, that of death itself, took possession of me. In spite of myself, all the muscles of my body struggled uselessly to save me from suffocation. In spite of myself, the fingers of both my hands shook uncontrollably. ‘That’s it! He’s going to talk,’ said a voice.
“The water stopped running and they took away the rag. I was able to breathe. In the gloom, I saw the lieutenants and the captain, who, with a cigarette between his lips, was hitting my stomach with his fist to make me throw out the water I had swallowed.”
In the United States, waterboarding has long been considered illegal or a violation of military rules of conduct. The earliest known case of a prosecution for waterboarding occurred in 1901 when an Army major was sentenced to 10 years in prison for waterboarding a Filipino guerrilla insurgent during the Philippine-American War. In 1926 the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a black man accused of murder because his confession had been obtained by waterboarding.
Following World War II (1939-1945) American prosecutors convicted several Japanese soldiers for waterboarding Allied prisoners of war. The soldiers were tried as part of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, also known as the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. During the Vietnam War, a U.S. soldier who participated in the waterboarding of a North Vietnamese prisoner of war was court-martialed in 1968. As recently as 1983, a Texas sheriff was sentenced to ten years in prison for waterboarding suspects in an attempt to coerce confessions.
In 1994 the United States ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). When this international treaty was ratified, its provisions became U.S. law. The convention defined torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person.”
Also in 1946 the U.S. Congress adopted the Torture Statute, which provides criminal liability for a U.S. national who tortures a person outside of the United States. A foreign national apprehended in the United States for torturing someone outside of the United States could also face criminal liability under the Torture Statute.
The U.S. War Crimes Act of 1996 provides life imprisonment or the death penalty for a U.S. national or any member of the U.S. armed forces who is convicted of torturing someone to death. Anyone charged with a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, which forbids torture, could also be tried in the United States under the War Crimes Act.
Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Vice President Dick Cheney told an interviewer that it had become necessary for the United States to go over to “the dark side” in its pursuit of the al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the attacks. In October 2006 Cheney confirmed that waterboarding had been used against Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks, while he was being held in a secret detention facility by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). CIA director Michael Hayden told the U.S. Congress in February 2008 that waterboarding had also been used against al-Qaeda suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri in 2002 and 2003, but that the CIA explicitly renounced use of the technique as of 2006.
Hayden’s statement that only three detainees had been waterboarded was contradicted by other accounts. An ABC News report in 2005, based on statements by current and former CIA officers, claimed that Ibn al-Shaikh al-Libi, who ran a suspected terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, had been waterboarded. A German citizen, Murat Kurnaz, a prisoner at the U.S. detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, until 2006, also claimed that he was waterboarded during his detention.
The CIA’s use of waterboarding became the centerpiece of a criminal investigation launched by the U.S. Justice Department in 2008 after the disclosure that a top CIA official had ordered the destruction of videotapes documenting the use of waterboarding during interrogations. Attorney General Michael Mukasey clarified that the Justice Department was investigating the incident only from the standpoint of obstruction of justice due to the destruction of potential evidence.
Mukasey ruled out an investigation of whether the waterboarding itself violated the law because the department’s Office of Legal Counsel had apparently allowed the technique in two separate memos, one written in 2002 and another in 2005. The 2002 memo redefined torture as “pain akin to organ failure.” CIA officers could not be prosecuted, Mukasey maintained, because the Justice Department itself had approved the waterboarding technique, along with other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, such as stress positions and exposure to cold. Most human rights organizations and legal experts regard such techniques as clear violations of U.S. torture laws.
In March 2008 President George W. Bush vetoed a bill passed by Congress that explicitly outlawed waterboarding. Bush maintained that the act, which would have required CIA interrogators to adhere to rules outlined in the Army Field Manual, would have deprived the CIA of all “the tools they need to stop the terrorists.” Just prior to leaving office in December 2008, Vice President Cheney confirmed that he played a central role in approving the use of waterboarding during interrogations and that he still considered the waterboarding technique to be an appropriate interrogation method.
However, the administration of President Barack Obama, which took office in January 2009, acted quickly to disallow waterboarding or other harsh interrogation techniques. Obama issued an executive order requiring all government employees, including CIA employees, to abide by the Geneva Conventions and other treaties and laws banning torture. Specifically, the executive order required that the interrogation practices permitted in the Army Field Manual be consistent with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. During his confirmation hearings, the newly appointed U.S. attorney general, Eric Holder, also stated that he regarded waterboarding as a form of torture. Holder noted that the U.S. government had prosecuted Japanese soldiers who used waterboarding during World War II (1939-1945) and U.S. soldiers who waterboarded prisoners during the Vietnam War (1959-1975)
there is more at the begining of this article if you want to read it~ i put what i thought was a good explanation