Often the victim has the mouth forced or wedged open, the nose closed with pincers and a funnel or strip of cloth forced down the throat. The victim has to drink all the water (or other liquids such as bile or urine) poured into the funnel to avoid drowning. The stomach fills until near bursting, and is sometimes beaten until the victim vomits and the torture begins again.
Water torture was used extensively and legally by the courts of France from the Middle Ages to the 17th and 18th centuries. It was known as being put to "the question", with the ordinary question consisting of eight pints (4.5 litres) of water forced into the stomach, and the extraordinary question consisting of sixteen pints (9 litres). The French poet and criminal François Villon was subjected to this torture in 1457. Jean Calas suffered this torture before being broken on the wheel in 1762. The true case of the Marquise of Brinvilliers was reported in fiction by Arthur Conan Doyle in " The Leather Funnel", by Alexandre Dumas, père in " The Marquise de Brinvilliers" and by Émile Gaboriau in " Intrigues of a Poisoner". More recently, water cure was used by the French military on Algerian prisoners during the Algerian war of independence.
"The first and second [measures of water] I gladly received, such was the scorching drought of my tormenting pain, and likewise I had drunk none for three days before. But afterward, at the third charge, perceiving these measures of water to be inflicted upon me as tortures, O strangling tortures! I closed my lips, gainstanding that eager crudelity. Whereat the alcalde enraging, set my teeth asunder with a pair of iron cadges, detaining them there, at every several turn, both mainly and manually; whereupon my hunger-clunged belly waxing great, grew drum-like imbolstered: for it being a suffocating pain, in regard of my head hanging downward, and the water reingorging itself in my throat with a struggling force; it strangled and swallowed up my breath from yowling and groaning."Before pouring the water, torturers often inserted an iron prong (known as the bostezo) into a victim's mouth to keep it open, as well as a strip of linen (known as the toca) on which the victim would choke and suffocate while swallowing the water.
In 1983 Texas sheriff James Parker and three of his deputies were convicted for conspiring to force confessions. The complaint said they "subject prisoners to a suffocating water torture ordeal in order to coerce confessions. This generally included the placement of a towel over the nose and mouth of the prisoner and the pouring of water in the towel until the prisoner began to move, jerk, or otherwise indicate that he was suffocating and/or drowning." The sheriff was sentenced to ten years in prison, and the deputies to four years.
Water cure was among the forms of torture used by American soldiers on Filipinos during the Philippine-American War.President Theodore Roosevelt privately assured a friend that the water cure was "an old Filipino method of mild torture. Nobody was seriously damaged whereas the Filipinos had inflicted incredible tortures on our people." However, a report at the time noted its lethality; "a soldier who was with General Funston had stated that he helped to administer the water cure to one hundred and sixty natives, all but twenty-six of whom died". See the Lodge Committee for detailed testimony of the use of the water cure.
Lieutenant Grover Flint during the Philippine-American War:
"A man is thrown down on his back and three or four men sit or stand on his arms and legs and hold him down; and either a gun barrel or a rifle barrel or a carbine barrel or a stick as big as a belaying pin, -- that is, with an inch circumference, -- is simply thrust into his jaws and his jaws are thrust back, and, if possible, a wooden log or stone is put under his head or neck, so he can be held more firmly. In the case of very old men I have seen their teeth fall out, -- I mean when it was done a little roughly. He is simply held down and then water is poured onto his face down his throat and nose from a jar; and that is kept up until the man gives some sign or becomes unconscious. And, when he becomes unconscious, he is simply rolled aside and he is allowed to come to. In almost every case the men have been a little roughly handled. They were rolled aside rudely, so that water was expelled. A man suffers tremendously, there is no doubt about it. His sufferings must be that of a man who is drowning, but cannot drown. ...
In his book The Forging of the American Empire Sidney Lens recounted:
A reporter for the New York Evening Post (April 8, 1902) gave some harrowing details. The native, he said, is thrown on the ground, his arms and legs pinned down, and head partially raised "so as to make pouring in the water an easier matter". If the prisoner tries to keep his mouth closed, his nose is pinched to cut off the air and force him to open his mouth, or a bamboo stick is put in the opening. In this way water is steadily poured in, one, two, three, four, five gallons, until the body becomes "an object frighful to contemplate". In this condition, of course, speech is impossibly, so the water is squeezed out of the victim, sometimes naturally, and sometimes - as a young soldier with a smile told the correspondent - "we jump on them to get it out quick." One or two such treatments and the prisoner either talks or dies.
"The so-called 'water treatment' was commonly used. The victim was bound or otherwise secured in a prone position; and water was forced through his mouth and nostrils into his lungs and stomach until he lost consciousness. Pressure was then applied, sometimes by jumping upon his abdomen to force the water out. The usual practice was to revive the victim and successively repeat the process."
The tribunal also reported the case of a prisoner being tortured in the Japanese-occupied Dutch East Indies:
"A towel was fixed under the chin and down over the face. Then many buckets of water were poured into the towel so that the water gradually reached the mouth and rising further eventually also the nostrils, which resulted in his becoming unconscious and collapsing like a person drowned. This procedure was sometimes repeated 5-6 times in succession.
Chase J. Nielson, who was captured in the Doolittle raid testified at the trial of his captors, "I was given several types of torture... I was given what they call the water cure." and it felt "more or less like I was drowning, just gasping between life and death."