Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Water Torture, Gonzales, And The Japanese Prisoners We Convicted.

At his hearing today Alberto Gonzales once again refused to find anything wrong with water boarding and made clear that it certainly wasn't torture. In addition to knowing precious little about the law, Gonzales is also ignorant of the history of water torture. The Senators should have reminded him of the Japanese soldiers convicted by U.S. and other tribunals for using water torture against allied soldiers during WW II.

During his testimony, Gonzales had this to say when asked why the President's July 20th Executive Order did not include water boarding in the list of prohibited acts,

"[S]ome acts are clearly beyond the pale, and that everyone would agree should be prohibited, . . . There are certain other activities where it is not so clear, Senator."


Well Mr. Esteemed Attorney General, I'd like to introduce you to Mssrs. Yuki, Hata, Asano, Kita and Nakamura, just a few of the many Japanese soldiers who were convicted at the end of WWII of the war crime of water boarding.

There is a very comprehensive article on the history of water torture by Evan Wallach entitled, DROP BY DROP: FORGETTING THE HISTORY OF WATER TORTURE IN U.S. COURTS, which details what the U.S. has learned and forgotten, and learned and forgotten again about this this evil form of torture.

But first to the basics. Though it goes by many names such as "water cure," "water boarding," "water torture," and "water rag," the

technique has long been prized by extreme interrogators for its unique combination of severe mental trauma and physical pain with, unlike other methods, a lack of perceivable physical trauma short of autopsy


How do the victims of it feel? From the testimony of CPT Chase Jay Neilson, one of the Dolittle raiders who was captured by the Japanese,

Q: Did the questioners threaten you with any other treatment while you were being questioned?

A: Yes, I was given several types of torture.... I was given what they call the water cure.* * *

Q: What was your sensation when they were pouring water..., what did you physically feel?

A: Well, I felt more or less like I was drowning, just gasping between life and death.


And how did his torturers achieve this effect, this feeling of drowning?

Well, I was put on my back on the floor with my arms and legs stretched out, one guard holding each limb. The towel was wrapped around my face and put across my face and water poured on. They poured water on this towel until I was almost unconscious from strangulation, then they would let up until I’d get my breath, then they’d start over again.


This is the testimony of Ramon Lavarro, a Philippine lawyer subjected to torture, at the war crimes trial of Sergeant Major Yuki,

Q: And then did he take you back to your room?

A: When Yuki could not get anything out of me he wanted the interpreter to place me down below and I was told by Yuki to take off all my clothes so what I did was to take off my clothes as ordered. I was ordered to lay on a bench and Yuki tied my feet, hands and neck to that bench lying with my face upward. After I was tied to the bench Yuki placed some cloth on my face and then with water from the faucet they poured on me until I became unconscious. He repeated that four or five times.

COL KEELEY: You mean he brought water and poured water down your throat?

A: No sir, on my face, until I became unconscious. We were lying that way with some cloth on my face and then Yuki poured water on my face continuously.

COL KEELEY: And you couldn’t breath?

A: No, I could not and so I for a time lost consciousness. I found my consciousness came back again and found Yuki was sitting on my stomach and then I vomited the water from my stomach and the consciousness came back again for me.

Q: Where did the water come out when he sat on your stomach?

A” From my mouth and all openings of my face...and then Yuki would repeat the same treatment and the same procedure to me until I became unconscious again.

Q: How many times did that happen?

A: Around four or five times from two o’clock up to four o’clock in the afternoon. When I was not able to endure his punishment which I received I told a lie to Yuki....I could not really show anything to Yuki because I was really lying just to stop the torture...


The defendant in this case, Chinsaku Yuki, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Here is a summary of the testimony of American POWs Burton, Armitage, Cash, and Woodall at the trial of their Japanese captors.

The witnesses’ descriptions painted a grim portrait of the treatment meted out to POWs, and of the use of water torture as a primary means of interrogation.

He was turned upside down and water poured up his nose and beaten into unconsciousness.62

...they would lash me to a stretcher then prop me up against a table with my head down. They would then pour about two gallons of water from a pitcher into my nose and mouth until I lost consciousness...63

...they laid me out on a stretcher and strapped me on. The stretcher was then stood on end with my head almost touching the floor and my feet in the air.... They then began pouring water over my face and at times it was almost impossible for me to breath without sucking in water.64

[We] were strapped to stretchers and warm water poured down our nostrils until we were about ready to pass out.65

[They] strapped him to a stretcher and elevated his feet and then poured on his face so
that it was almost impossible for him to get his breath.66

[The victim] was then taken into the corridor, strapped to a stretcher, which was tilted so that his head was toward the floor and feet resting on a nearby sink. Water was then poured down his nose and mouth for about twenty minutes...67

...they stood them on their heads until they almost choked.


There were four japanese defendants in these cases. Hata was convicted and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. Nakamura received twenty years and Asano and Kita each received fifteen year sentences.

The use of water torture was not unique to the Japanese in WWII. It has a long and sordid history over the centuries and the United States has participated in this gruesome history. But there is a different between our use of this torture in the past versus our use of it under Bush. In the past it was never sanctioned as government policy and americans were prosecuted for using it. Now, under Bush, it is a sanctioned technique that is used without shame or conscience.

During the Philippine Insurrection, the war following the Spanish American War, Americans were awakened to the brutality of the conduct of some our troops against the Philippinos who were called guerillas, or patriots, depending on which side you were on.

The Spanish-American war was remarkably similar to the Iraq war in several key respects. Both wars were sold to the public on the basis of jingoistic propaganda and lies, instigated and/or promoted by the Administration and the press. Both wars were advertised as short military adventures that would be victorious in short order. Both wars metamorphosed from the conflict initially advertised into guerilla campaigns fought by people who viewed the Americans as occupiers. And in both wars, the United States used water torture against its enemy. There is one difference. In the Philippine war there was general, though not universal, public and congressional revulsion against the tactics used and senior officers were held accountable, including a General. In Iraq, the administration sanctioned the use of torture, without naming it so, and specifically embraced the use of water boarding.

As summarized by Evan Wallach

The United States has largely forgotten its adventure in the Philippines, but at the time the U.S. occupation was highly controversial at home, not least, because of allegations of misconduct by American troops. Eventually, courts-martial reached as high as a general officer, left the93 administration facing congressional inquiries, and the public with a sour after taste from its “splendid little war.” One highly publicized aspect of that misconduct was the “water cure.”94

Testifying before Congress, the U.S. Administrator in the Philippines, William Howard Taft (later President and Supreme Court Justice) conceded that the “water cure” had been used as a questioning technique. The testimony coincided with publication of a soldier’s letter home95 boasting of use of the water cure on Filipino insurgents.96


There was ample testimony presented to the Senate Committee regarding the abuses in the Philippines.

Another witness, former Private Edward Norton “...described in one instance where he had assisted in ‘water-curing a native. The man’s mouth, he said, was forced open with a stick and the water poured down his throat. The effect of the treatment was temporary strangulation. In this particular case, he said, the native after receiving the cure delivered up a number of rifles and pistols.104

Another former soldier, First Lieutenant Grover Flint testified he has been a witness to at least twenty applications of the water cure. Flint sated he had never seen anyone die as a result although he had seen a prisoner rendered unconscious, and that “...in some cases where it was given to old men he had seen their teeth fall out.105

Still another ex-enlisted man, L.E. Hallock “...told of the infliction of the cure upon a dozen natives...He said they were captured and tortured in order to secure information of the murder of [an American soldier who was tortured before his death]. When asked the effect of the treatment, he testified that “The stomach would swell up, and in some cases I witnessed blood come from the mouth.”106


Initially, Secretary of War Elihu Root had denied all the allegations of abuse. However, less than two months later, Secretary Root had substantially changed his position. In light of the testimony that had been presented to the Senate Committee, he directed the Judge Advocate General of the Army to take proper steps, and he directed the Army commander in the Philippines that ”... nothing can justify or will be held to justify the use of torture or inhuman conduct of any kind on the part of the American Army. "

Root issued the following directive to the commander of U.S. troops in the Philippines on behalf of president Roosevelt.

The President desires to know in the fullest and most circumstantial manner, all the facts, nothing being concealed and no man being for any reason favored or shielded. 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 rigorous care is exercised to detect and prevent any cruelty or brutality, and that the men who are guilty thereof are punished. Great as the provocation has been in dealing with foes who habitually resort to treachery, murder and torture against our men, nothing can justify or will be held to justify the use of torture or inhuman conduct of any kind on the part of the American Army.


From that point on water torture was prohibited as a matter of U.S. policy. Yes, there were instances when it was subsequently used by U.S. troops, particularly in Viet Nam, but not with the sanction of the President. That is of course until now. We have a President, Vice President, Attorney General and their many enablers, not the least of which being torture man John Yoo who embrace water torture.

In todays hearing Gonzales was asked a question about the Executive Order, specifically paragraph (E), which enumerates certain prohibited practices.

(E) willful and outrageous acts of personal abuse done for the purpose of humiliating or degrading the individual in a manner so serious that any reasonable person, considering the circumstances, would deem the acts to be beyond the bounds of human decency, such as sexual or sexually indecent acts undertaken for the purpose of humiliation, forcing the individual to perform sexual acts or to pose sexually, threatening the individual with sexual mutilation, or using the individual as a human shield; or


When asked why the order could enumerate these odious practices and leave water boarding unmentioned, he made clear it was not an oversight. According to him, water torture, a practice that the United States has condemned, a practice that we have tried and convicted enemy soldiers for and sentenced them to up to life in prison, is not "clearly beyond the pale." It is not something that "everybody would agree should be prohibited."

With all due respect, Mssrs. Bush, Cheney, Gonzales and Yoo, your opinions are beyond the pale. You lack the decency of ordinary human beings and deserve to be reviled now and for all time.

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