A Delaware pediatrician was sentenced to three years in prison on Friday for using the controversial torture technique known as waterboarding on his 12-year-old stepdaughter.
Although he once appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Melvin Morse, a 60-year-old celebrity pediatrician proved that he wasn’t as kind-hearted as the beloved talk show host. He was sentenced to three years in prison and two years of probation upon being released after a jury convicted him of one count of waterboarding the young girl in the bathtub, and five misdemeanor counts of forcing the girl’s head under a faucet with running water and threatening punishment, the NY Daily News reported.
But she endured more than that. She told authorities that she was waterboarded after vomiting into a cat’s litter box — a result of being forced to drink too much milk. Morse, as well as the girl’s mother, would also force her to stand with her arms extended for a long amount of time and would isolate her in her room without food, or conversely, force-feed her. The actions of the girl’s caregivers were brought to the attention of police after she ran away to a friend’s house one day in July 2012 and Morse picked her up, spanking and dragging her across the driveway by her ankle — police subsequently arrested him.
The mother was also charged with a handful of misdemeanor charges, which she pleaded guilty to while also agreeing to testify against Morse. Her daughter is now in foster care. Although Morse apologized profusely to the girl during his court appearance, she said in a letter delivered by her therapist that “he needs to feel what it’s like to be a prisoner. I was a prisoner at home with him.”
Waterboarding's Effects on the Body and Psyche
Waterboarding, for many people, became familiar during former President George W. Bush’s presidency. Its use among Guantanamo detainees sparked controversy as some people questioned its legality and whether it was humane, while others felt that the detainees deserved whatever the CIA dealt. But even a soon-to-be-released Senate report supposedly claims that it may have been illegal under the definition of torture determined by the Bush-era Department of Justice. If it’s considered that harsh for adult detainees, the effects are surely worsened for a young girl.
Waterboarding is so harsh because it simulates the effects of drowning upon its victims. It usually involves strapping the victim to a board or plank, covering their face in a cloth, and soaking it in water. The wet cloth then sticks tightly to the victims face, making it difficult to breathe without getting water into the mouth and nose as well.
After hours of waterboarding, there’s no doubt that some of the water has gotten in the lungs. This can lead to hypoxia — a deficiency of oxygen to organs — and eventually organ failure, according to Scientific American. If the water is dirty, it can further harm the body, causing pneumonia or pleuritis, which is the inflammation of the lungs. And because it’s so frightening and stressful, it can cause blood pressure to rise, and trigger heart attacks and the like.
The effects go deeper than just the physical, affecting the victim’s psyche as well. “This is an utterly terrifying event,” Allan Keller, director of Bellevue/New York University School of Medicine Program for Survivors of Torture, told Time. “Psychologically, this can result in significant long-term post-traumatic stress, and produce anxiety and depression.”
Although the young girl was only waterboarded once — it’s done countless times on detainees — the cumulative psychological effects of everything her parents put her through are sure to take a toll on her. But at least she can rest-assured that Morse is getting his time in prison. “It totally vindicates her,” chief trial prosecutor Melanie Withers said, according to ABC News, “and that’s what this has all been about.”