Robert Downes 4/27/09
In 1947 the United States convicted a number of Japanese war criminals to life in prison for waterboarding U.S. soldiers.
In one case, a Japanese officer named Chinsaku Yuki made his victim strip off all his clothes, after which he was tied naked to a bench. Then Yuki poured water over a cloth wrapped around the victims face until he drowned and passed out. When the man was revived, hed find Yuki sitting on his belly and the process would start all over again.
One U.S. soldier testified that he was drowned four or five times, losing consciousness, then revived for more punishment.
We gave the Japanese and Nazi war criminals the harshest penalties that a military tribunal could mete out for their hideous acts. But now, our nation finds itself gazing in a mirror, faced with the same question: Should the Bush administration be investigated for condoning and encouraging torture?
The short answer is that they already are being investigated -- by the press.
Much of what we know about the harsh methods of the Central Intelligence Agency comes from a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which was released in February.
You can -- and should -- read the full report at http://www.nybooks.com/icrc-report.pdf . The report has been excerpted in numerous newspapers and magazines.
The Red Cross interviewed 14 high value detainees in CIA custody at Guantanamo prison in 2006. Many of the techniques used by the CIA had been used on U.S. soldiers by the Chinese in the Korean War, such as forcing prisoners to stand for days on end; sleep deprivation to the point of psychosis; prolonged, enforced nudity; exposure to cold temperatures and being frequently doused with buckets of cold water.
These and even more brutal techniques were used by the Soviet Union on their own people. It was Soviet torturers who came up with inserting butt plugs in their victims so that they wouldn‘t soil interrogators with feces when they were beaten and lost control of their bowels. According to reports, this practice was also adopted by U.S. interrogators.
Then theres waterboarding, which has been practiced since the Spanish Inquisition, dating back to the 1400s. Said to inspire a sense of helplessness and terror capable of driving its victims insane, the CIA reportedly waterboarded one prisoner 83 times with another getting the treatment 183 times.
Has the United States ever condoned the torture methods of communist China, the Soviet Union or Imperial Japan? No, in times past, conservatives (of the sort who are presently apologists for torture) would have cited these evil deeds as being in stark contrast to the principles of America.
And yet, according to published reports, the enhanced interrogation techniques of the Chinese and the Soviet Union went into a C.I.A. manual for use on our own enemies -- after being okayed by the Justice Department and the Bush administration.
Perhaps thats why former Vice President Dick Cheney has suddenly surfaced from the undisclosed location hes been hiding in all these years in order to sing like a canary about why torture was justified under his watch.
Cheney claims that torture was necessary to protect Americans from Al Qaeda. If this is true, then why wasn‘t torture officially sanctioned and practiced on the Nazis, the Japanese, the Confederacy, the Mexicans, Filipinos, Italians, Russians, Spanish, Bosnians, British, Barbary pirates and all of the other nations that America has been at war with over the past 233 years?
Because it‘s wrong. It‘s un-American.
Obviously, some of those interrogated by the CIA are very bad people. Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, who was waterboarded 183 times, confessed to planning the 9/11 attacks and claimed to have personally beheaded reporter Daniel Pearl. Theres a legal remedy for people like this which involves a trial and the gas chamber.
But torture is not legal under U.S. or international law, and its worth noting that if you let the Dick Cheneys of the world go scot-free on violating civilized behavior and American principles, then someday the torturers could come for us.
Not those who live in America today, but our children or grandchildren, who may live in a future America where the rules of justice and human rights have gone up in smoke.
If we let torture slide today, then its justification and rationale will live on to rise again in another administration, perhaps years from now. At that point, perhaps waterboarding will become a standard practice at the local county jail. Perhaps, like in the old Soviet Union, our own citizens will be forced to stand in punishment cells for weeks on end. Perhaps, like in China today, people will be beaten and executed in prisons which have no public oversight or regulation.
Should we Americans have laws, established by long precedent and wise deliberation that we follow to the letter, or should we have lawlessness practiced on a whim by those in power? Thats the real issue here.
Even the pro-torture crowd should consider that once we allow presidents to start playing loose with the law, all of our other freedoms are in danger, including the Second Amendment.
Even if the U.S. Attorney General approves an investigation, its highly unlikely that anyone in the Bush administration will be doing the Nuremberg neck-drop as a result of its findings.
More likely, theyll be faced with something on the order of South Africas Truth and Reconciliation Commission (as some human rights groups have suggested), which involves confessing that youve done something wrong and moving on.
So, unlike the Japanese officers who went to prison for life for waterboarding U.S. soldiers, the worst that can happen today is that some egos in the Bush administration will get bruised and they‘ll earn their place in the hall of shame in our history books.
But at least an investigation will send a message to future presidents that torture is off limits for America.