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Water torture is torture using water, which can take several forms. Because no external marks are left on victims of water torture, it has been a favoured method of torture in various countries and political regimes.Template:WhenTemplate:Where?

The torture has notably been used against political prisoners.[citation needed]

Forced ingestion

In this form of water torture, water is forced down the throat and into the stomach. This happens repeatedly until osmosis causes the cells to explode[citation needed]. It was used as a legal torture and execution method by the courts in France in the 17th and 18th century, was employed against Americans and Chinese during World War II by the Japanese, and was also used against Filipinos by American Forces during the Philippine-American War. The Human Rights Watch organization reports that in the 2000s, security forces in Uganda sometimes forced a detainee to lie face up under an open water spigot.[1]

Water intoxication can result from drinking too much water, and this has caused some fatalities over the years in fraternities during initiation week. For example, a person was hazed to death by Chi Tau of Chico State (California) in 2005 via the forcing of pushups and the drinking of water from a bottle.[2]

Fear of drowning

Waterboarding refers to a technique involving water poured over the face or head of the subject, in order to evoke the instinctive fear of drowning. Often a wet cloth is placed in the subject's mouth, giving them the impression that they are drowning.


In many cases people had very cold water poured over them, to make a whipping more painful. The water also made it easier to pierce the skin.

Dripping water

What is called the "Chinese water torture" was a torture described by Hippolytus de Marsiliis in the 16th century that was supposed to drive its victim insane with the stress of water dripping on a part of the forehead for a very long time. It may also be characterized by the inconsistent pattern of water drips. Supposedly, the desire for the human brain to make a pattern of the timing between the drops will also eventually cause insanity to set in.


In this form of torture used as a Trial by ordeal, a victim would be repeatedly immersed in water, then pulled out and asked to confess to a crime. Those who failed to confess would be immersed again.

Other forms of water torture

  • The Falun Gong have accused the Chinese government of using "water dungeons" on jailed practitioners. A water dungeon is simply a pool of filthy water in which a caged detainee is immersed neck-deep for days or weeks at a time. After a few days in a water dungeon the victim will be covered in festering sores and will not be able to move most major muscles for 2 to 3 weeks.[3]
  • Another instance of a "water dungeon" was the so-called Waterhuis in the Amsterdam Rasphuis. Criminals that were condemned to hard labor had to saw wood in this prison in the 17th century. If they were recalcitrant they were placed in a cellar that quickly filled with water after a sluice was opened. However, they were handed a pump that enabled them to keep from drowning, provided they pumped energetically and continuously. This method of punishment was considered quite humane at the time. The Rasphuis prison was a popular tourist attraction for Englishmen doing the Grand Tour. The description of the dungeon therefore comes mainly to us from travelogues.[4]
  • Submersion in cold water is another form of torture, similar to dunking, but with an emphasis on near freezing temperatures of the water. It is not to be confused with water dousing which is voluntary and done for novelty or health reasons.
  • The House of Terror in Budapest, Hungary, shows examples of water torture used by the Nazi and Arrow Cross Parties against the Jews. One Involves a sunken cell filled with ice cold water; the prisoner must stand on a tiny metal plinth in the centre of the room for days and weeks on end. When the prisoner becomes tired or falls asleep, he will fall from the plinth into the ice water.


Sources and notes

  1. Human Rights Watch, Human Rights News: Torture Worldwide
  2. Korry, Elaine (November 14, 2005). "A Fraternity Hazing Gone Wrong". NPR. Retrieved 2009-01-18.
  3. article Water dungeon
  4. There are a number of modern sources, like Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches, pp. 17-20. However, those must rely on older sources, like Edward Browne, A Journey from Norwich to Colen in Germany (1668) and Robert Sears, Scenes and Sketches in Continental Europe (1847), p.540

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