Water, with all of its life-affirming and throat-quenching qualities, is seemingly quite benign. But in the wrong hands, water can bring death upon any poor soul who is subjected to its deadly power. Our humble race has found many a way to use water against each other, for the purpose of causing as much pain as possible. Here are some of the worst.
Strongly associated with the Bush and Cheney years, waterboarding has actually been around since 16th century Europe. We heard the term so much in recent years, yet many never really knew what it entailed. Far too many, in fact, dismissed it as a possible form of torture by scoffing, “it’s just water.”
It’s so much more though. Waterboarding involves strapping somebody to a table on their back, causing them to become immobile. Afterwards, a cloth is placed over their eyes, nose and mouth. When they are nice and secure, the torturer proceeds to pour water directly onto the face, in intervals. This gives the poor victim the unpleasant sensation of being underwater and drowning ever so slowly.
The worst part though, is the in-between moments of alleviation for the victim, when the water stops pouring. This momentary relief is just a mirage, meant to break them psychologically, as they go right back to drowning again. This process is repeated until the victim completely submits.
9. Chinese Water Torture
“Chinese water torture” is actually something of a misnomer, since the practice actually has nothing to do with China. In actuality, the origins of its name can be traced back to magician Harry Houdini’s stunt, the “Chinese Water Torture Cell.” In this stunt, Houdini entered a tank filled with water, upside down and bound, and had to make an escape before he died.
As a form of torture, this practice came about in 15th century Italy, by a lawyer (of course it would be a lawyer) named Hippolytus de Marsili. Marsili created the torture after witnessing a constant drip of water impacting a stone. And in that lawyer mind of his, the first thing he thought of was how this could be used on a human to torture a confession out of them.
The way the process works is to strap someone by their head and body, and on their back. Then, a simple drop of water would proceed to drip on the victim’s forehead. Sounds harmless, right? Well, it doesn’t seem so harmless when the victim is strapped for days at a time, with that drip of water never stopping. The torture is as psychological as it is physical, as the victim starts to see every drop coming, with the feeling magnified after every drip. It is even said that, after a long enough duration, the water starts to penetrate the skin. Now we know where the phrase “water on the brain” comes from.
The Salem Witch trials were an infamous time in early American colonial history, and came complete with its own form of torture. The inhumane practice known as dunking was used often against those accused of being witches. But the goal wasn’t to inflict pain, but rather to test, hence the term “ordeal by water.”
The test went like this: a person accused of being a witch was tied to a chair and dunked into the water. If the victim floated, they were witches, as it was believed back then that all witches floated. Of course, virtually nobody could pass this test, since human bodies naturally float and all. The victim was never acquitted, thus prolonging the torture and ultimately condemning the victim.
In rare cases, the person would simply drown before they could be brought back up, which acquitted them of all charges or something. Water was the main judge here, as it was viewed as the ultimate holy purifier. In addition, if the torturers were not satisfied with the result, they would repeatedly dunk the victim, even strapping them to devices to accomplish this awful task.
7. Boiling Water
A couple drips of boiling hot water on your skin sure is painful, right? Well, take that pain, and amplify it by about a million times. Welcome to being boiled alive. Brought to you by the sadistic minds of the Middle Ages, this torture was quite simple in its effectiveness. When it was time to boil somebody, a large cauldron was filled with cold or tepid water. After it was filled to the executioner’s heart’s content, the victim was inserted into the cauldron. Then, either a low flame was set for prolonged agony, or a higher flame for quicker torture gratification.
So why was the water cold or tepid to begin with? This was to ensure that the victim undergoes every stage of being cooked alive. In some circumstances, a small amount of water was placed in the cauldron. This gave the added effect of frying the victim. Fourth degree burns would occur, with deterioration of the skin and its layers. Then, the fat in the tissue would cook. After, the muscle underneath would start to show. Finally, the veins and arteries would pop, due to the heat.
Henry VIII made boiling to death an official punishment in England, and one of its earliest victims — the Bishop of Rochester’s murderer, Richard Rice — suffered so graphic an execution that pregnant women fainted at the sight and had to be carried away from the scene.
6. Water Curing
Talk about a misnomer, since about the only thing this torture cures is the disease of a long, fruitful life. The water cure method is somewhat similar to waterboarding in posture, as the victim is rendered immobile and on their back. But while waterboarding involves pouring water all over the victim’s face, the water cure involves pouring water straight down their throat. Over and over again, endlessly.
See, drinking too much water is in actuality a very, very bad thing, and can cause death. This is called “water intoxication,” the end game of the water cure. The mouth of the victim is pried open, and a funneling device is thrust into the throat. Water is then poured into the funnel and directly into the victim’s stomach. This is done until either the victim either dies from water intoxication or hemorrhages to death due to an eruption in the stomach.
Sometimes, the torturer would be creative and make the victim vomit all of the previously ingested water, so that the torture could be done ad infinitum. Think about that the next time you wax nostalgic about how much nicer people were back in the day.
5. Nazi Water Chamber
During World War II, the Hungarian Nazi Party turned a regular 19th century villa in Budapest into something much more nefarious. Their administrative building is now referred to as “the House of Terror,” which sounds like a cheap thrill ride at a haunted theme park, but was unfortunately very real.
The House of Terror was replete with all kinds of tortures, including the water chamber. This was not an intricate or complicated method, but that doesn’t lessen its horror any. It was little more than large hole filled with ice cold water, with a small platform in the middle where the sleep-deprived victim was forced to stand. If the person became weak or fell asleep, they would fall, directly into the frozen water.
And this would be repeated time and again. To make matters worse, after Hungary was “liberated” by the Soviets, the Communists moved right into the House of Terror, taking over the lease from the Nazis, and resuming much of the torturous procedures from the previous regime.
4. Japanese Deep Freeze
Located deep within the isolated confines of Japanese-occupied Manchuria, China, Unit 731 was the brain child of evil genius Ishii Shiro. Shiro was a doctor by profession and, by all accounts, a nice guy and family man. But when it came time to ply his trade in Unit 731, his Mr. Hyde was unleashed upon the World War II POWs and natives who he considered “logs,” to be used, burned and discarded.
Unit 731 was created to obtain vital medical data in a scientific environment. But when one examines the list of procedures, they read more like a madman’s to-do list, one that would make some medieval torture methods tame in comparison. One of the worst methods was the frostbite test. Manchuria gets very, very cold during the winter, and this did not escape Shiro at all. Taking advantage, he forced men and women to stand naked in the freezing cold, as soldiers doused the victim’s limbs with cold water, to speed up the onset of frostbite. This was done until the limbs were hard enough to elicit a ringing sound when they were hit with sticks. Afterwards, they would either have their limbs and fingers smashed off or immediately defrosted by hot water, which caused all of the flesh on the limbs to just slide off.
Post-war, Unit 731 went under, with any surviving subjects killed off. While some serving in the unit were executed, Shiro died from natural causes in Japan, after giving the US all of his data.
The more we learn about hazing, it seems less and less like innocent pranking, and far more like sadistic torture. Some of the tactics utilized in hazing have included physical beatings, sexual abuse, and deprivations.
But one case stands out in that it involved the usage of water. The Chi Tau fraternity in Chico State University, California, was described by police as something like a medieval castle dungeon, with the words, “In the basement, no one can hear you scream” scrawled all over the basement walls. This was the stage for the “initiation” of 21-year-old Matthew Carrington, on February 2nd, 2005. Carrington was forced to go into the basement and engage in rigorous calisthenics, surrounded by raw sewage that accumulated on the floor. He was then forced to do numerous pushups in the dirty water. His body, soaking wet, was blasted with cold air from fans, which made the experience even more excruciating. He was also expected to continually drink water from a five-gallon container, which was repeatedly refilled.
According to reports, all of this was too much for Carrington’s body, which broke under the strain. He went into seizures and in the hospital, and his heart stopped. The cause of Carrington’s death was swelling of the brain and lungs, developed from acute water intoxication. Unfortunately, the frat brothers did not do much for Carrington, as they took their time in calling for any help. Two men, Gabriel Maestretti and Jerry Lim, were charged with Carrington’s death, but ultimately, they both received light sentences.
2. Republican Marriage
While plenty of Obama supporters would consider marrying a Republican torture all by itself, that’s not where this term originated. Its origins actually derive from the Republican government of the 1790’s French revolutionaries. It was called a marriage since both a male and female would suffer the same fate simultaneously.
This torture was especially popular during the Reign of Terror, which lasted from 1793-1794. It was the brainchild of Maximilien Robespierre, leader of the Committee of Public Safety. Jean-Baptiste Carrier, a revolutionary representative in the city of Nantes, was the main initiator of the Marriages. First, a man and woman would be stripped naked, and then tied together. While they were tied, sometimes they would be stabbed beforehand, just in case. Then they would be chucked into the Loire River, to sink and drown. These simple-yet-horrible executions happened regularly between 1793 and 1794. The worst part of it all, was that children were very likely victims of its wrath as well.
1. The Coffin
Humans cannot go more than three days without water, before we dry up and perish. With that in mind, here’s the Coffin, a torture that involves taking away any and all water from the victim, proving that the wet stuff doesn’t even have to show up to play a role in somebody’s slow and painful death.
The accused would be apprehended and placed into a metal cage-like apparatus, usually shaped to conform to the human body. The victim would then be taken to a pre-determined spot, usually in a location that absorbed the most heat from the sun. Then they would be abandoned there, sweating and sweltering in the heat, without a drop of water to alleviate their suffering.
In addition, the coffin was porous enough to allow animals access to the victim, which resulted in the victim being mauled and eaten while still alive. Suffice it to say, the victim usually did not make it to day three, but if they did, their death from dehydration would have been the absolute worst.