Waterboarding is a form of torture where the victim is laid onto their back with a cloth or other thin material covering the face and water being poured onto their face to give the victim the sensation of drowning. Waterboarding can cause extreme pain, dry drowning, damage to lungs, brain damage from oxygen deprivation, other physical injuries including broken bones due to struggling against restraints, lasting psychological damage, and death. Adverse physical consequences can manifest themselves months after the event, while psychological effects can last for years. The term water board torture appears in press reports as early as 1976. The captive's face is usually covered with cloth or some other thin material, and the subject is immobilized on his/her back. Interrogators pour water onto the face over the breathing passages, causing an almost immediate gag reflex and creating the sensation for the captive that he is drowning.
In the fall of 2007, it was widely reported that the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was using waterboarding on extrajudicial prisoners and that the Office of Legal Counsel, Department of Justice had authorized the procedure among enhanced interrogation techniques. Senator John McCain noted that in World War II, the United States military hanged Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American prisoners of war. The CIA confirmed having used waterboarding on three Al-Qaeda suspects: Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, in 2002 and 2003.
In its war on terror, the Bush administration through Jay S. Bybee, the Office of Legal Counsel, Department of Justice, issued in August 2002 and March 2003 what became known in 2004, after being leaked, as the Torture Memos. These legal opinions (including the 2002 Bybee memo) argued for a narrow definition of torture under U.S. law. The first three were addressed to the CIA, which took them as authority to use the described enhanced interrogation techniques (more generally classified as torture) on detainees classified as enemy combatants. In March 2003, John Yoo, the acting Office of Legal Counsel, issued a fourth memo to the General Counsel of DOD, concluding his legal opinion by saying that federal laws related to torture and other abuse did not apply to interrogations overseas, five days before the March 19, 2003 invasion of Iraq. The legal opinions were withdrawn by Jack Goldsmith of the OLC in June 2004 but reaffirmed by the succeeding head of the OLC in December 2004. During the presidency of George W. Bush, U.S. government officials at various times said they did not believe waterboarding to be a form of torture.
In January 2009, with a change in administrations, U.S. President Barack Obama banned the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture in interrogations of detainees. In April 2009, the U.S. Department of Defense refused to say whether waterboarding is still used for training (e.g. SERE) U.S. military personnel in resistance to interrogation.