I recently found some supporting evidence for my theory (in this post, one of my most read) that the term waterboarding is intended to make nonsense of a victim’s suffering by comparing his torture to an extreme sport. (Think of snowboarding, etc.)
Well, a while ago Isabel Macdonald searched newspaper archives to learn about the history of the word waterboarding in print. She found that “until May 2004, the term had actually meant an aquatic sport similar to surfing.” Since then it has rapidly come to signify water torture.
In a May 2004 article, a New York Times reporter quoted an anonymous “counterintelligence official” who said the CIA was using “a technique known as ‘water boarding,’ in which a prisoner is strapped down, forcibly pushed under water and made to believe he might drown.” That seems to be the first time the word went public. Evidently it was already in use among U.S. interrogators. No explanation of the term is offered.
Alan Dershowitz, who notoriously argued in favor of legal torture in 2004, was probably the first to use the single word waterboarding, instead of water boarding, in the mass media.
You can read the whole story in Macdonald’s article for fair.com.