Waterboarding, Then and Now

December 13, 2007 at 12:43 am | Posted in Torture | 3 Comments

Then:

The cable reads:

THE PRESIDENT DESIRES TO KNOW IN THE FULLEST AND MOST CIRCUMSTANTIAL MANNER ALL THE FACTS . . . FOR THE VERY REASON THAT THE PRESIDENT INTENDS TO BACK UP THE ARMY IN THE HEARTIEST FASHION IN EVERY LAWFUL AND LEGITIMATE METHOD OF DOING ITS WORK. HE ALSO INTENDS TO SEE THAT THE MOST VIGOROUS CARE IS EXERCISED TO DETECT AND PREVENT ANY CRUELTY OR BRUTALITY AND THAT MEN WHO ARE GUILTY THEREOF ARE PUNISHED. GREAT AS THE PROVOCATION HAS BEEN . . . NOTHING CAN JUSTIFY . . . THE USE OF TORTURE OR INHUMAN CONDUCT OF ANY KIND ON THE PART OF THE AMERICAN ARMY.

This message from the president of the United States was sent not to members of the American military dealing with insurgents in Iraq but to an earlier Army dealing with insurgents in the Philippines approximately a century ago. Even without the characteristic capitalization of cablegrams sent during President Theodore Roosevelt’s time, the strong statement of outrage over torture and high regard for American values comes through. Today there is no similar message, either from the president or from the new attorney general. This is sad.

Teddy Roosevelt had to deal with the mistreatment of civilians by U.S. troops who were fighting an insurgency. American soldiers, who occupied the Philippines following the Spanish-American War, learned a technique of punishment and interrogation from the Spanish that they called ”the water cure.” Along with other violence toward civilians, the U.S. soldiers used the technique liberally. Edmund Morris’ biography Theodore Rex quotes the official report’s description of that “cure”:

“A man is thrown down on his back and three or four men sit on his arms and legs and hold him down, and either a gun barrel or a rife barrel or a carbine barrel or a stick as big as a belaying pin . . . is simply thrust into his jaws . . . and then water is poured onto his face, down his throat and nose . . . until the man gives some sign of giving in or becomes unconscious. . . . His suffering must be that of a man who is drowning, but who cannot drown.”

Now:

Our government is now unable to say whether it would be a violation of the Geneva Conventions for the Iranian government to waterboard a downed U.S. airman. How do officials such as Brigadier General Hartmann sleep at night, I wonder? How many decades will it take to undo this damage? Kudos to Lindsey Graham, whose disgust is really the only appropriate response. Now, if he can only muster some of his colleagues to support a two-thirds vote to override the forthcoming presidential veto of the law that would end the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Republicans today have shamed the party of Teddy Roosevelt. Those who support waterboarding have shamed America.

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3 Comments »

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  1. It’s more than just the Republicans that have not only shamed America, but more importantly, the rule of law which our constitution is framed. All these arguments by the Fox pundits and certain people in government relating to the question, “Should torture be allowed to save the planet?” misses the point. It’s based on a faulty premise and puts the cart before the horse.

    The government has sanctioned the dispicable practice of extraordinary rendition under some whack job legal theory. The White House has created this legal mess with Guantanamo. And you have the CIA engaged in clearly torturous interrogation methods under the guise of security. That is exactly what the framers of our constitution wanted to protect the people from: government acting in our interest in the name of security. The ends do not justify the means.

    And when it comes to torture, there’s never, ever, a justification for it.

  2. Semi-related aside: Was just watching a Jazeera documentary on the fall of Grenada in 1492 and the status of Spain’s native Muslims thereafter. Frankly, not that great a documentary (Jazeera frequently does really good ones, this wasn’t in that normal category), but they showed a lot of old illustrations of torture from the Inquisition. Among them…some clear pictures of waterboarding. Mukasey can’t answer if waterboarding is torture, but Muslims have known what it’s like to be waterboard tortured by westerners for over 500 years. They still…are not amused. Nice to know that at least McCain (nuts as he is on so many other things) understands the basic evil nature of torture.

  3. Non-Arab Arab,

    You don’t know how much it embarrasses me at the ignorance so many Americans have of history. It is painful, dude.


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