Waterboarding in the French Navy, 1793

Date Posted: 02/12/2010

One thing that the French Revolution brought to the French Navy in 1793 was a more humanitarian code of punishment. Under the ancien regime the system of punishment was particularly severe, even for minor offences, and there was a host of barbaric punishment that could be meted out. One was simply known as the ‘cale’. The prisoner would be bound and hauled aloft, clear of the ship’s sides, before being dropped repeatedly, and head first, into the water as the ship moved along. It shares all of the main characteristics with that now well-known scourge of modern warfare, water-boarding: the restriction of movement, disorientation, and then the sudden and unceasing onrush of water into the eyes, mouth and nose. This was not just punishment, but torture.