Thursday, February 14, 2008
Torture - the GOP Litmus Test
From Wikipedia: “Water boarding is a form of torture that consists of immobilizing a person on his or her back, with the head inclined downward, and pouring water over the face and into the breathing passages. Through forced suffocation and inhalation of water, the subject experiences the process of drowning in a controlled environment and is made to believe that death is imminent.”
Water boarding came into vogue during the Spanish Inquisition, where it was used to uncover and punish heretics. The Europeans brought it to the new world, where it was used to ferret out witches and punish “scolds” (uppity women who didn’t take orders well from men). Women who were accused of sorcery were immersed in water, and held under, repeatedly, until they confessed or drowned. If they confessed, they were hanged or burned.
In 1947, after WWII, the United States charged a Japanese military officer with war crimes. Yukio Asano was found guilty of water boarding a US civilian, and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. In 1968, the Washington Post published a picture on the front page, of a US soldier engaged in questioning a captured North Vietnamese soldier. He was being held down as water was poured on his face, and a cloth covered his mouth and nose. The caption under the photograph said the technique induced a sense of drowning and suffocation, intended to make him talk. The US soldier was court-martialed within a month of the photos appearing in the paper. In 1901, a US Army major was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for water boarding a prisoner in the Philippines, during the Spanish-American War.
Most members of the military are against torture. The results of such torture are meaningless, they tell us – since the person being tortured will confess to anything to make it stop. Some of us watched the confirmation hearings of Attorney General Michael Mukasey in amazement. Mukasey indicated that even if Congress were to ban water boarding, the president might be able to order it anyway, given his authority as president and commander-in-chief. The President seems to be under the impression that nothing is illegal if it is done in secret, so we have the practice of extraordinary rendition (where we outsource our torture work to Uzbekistan) and Guantanamo Bay, where we are now talking about trying and executing some of the prisoners who have been languishing there for years. One of them is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is considered the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US. Mohammed is often cited as a water boarding success story. In 2006, President Bush informed us of a foiled terrorist attack that was supposed to occur in Los Angeles – but the plot was thwarted. The presumption is that they water boarded the information out of him, and saved the day. The problem is, the plot had already been derailed (in 2002) before Mohammed was captured in 2003.
Retired Rear Admiral John Hutson is the Dean of the Franklin Pierce Law School, in Concord, NH. He is regarded internationally as an expert on military law, as a former JAG. We saw Admiral Hutson at the Mukasey hearings. In 2005, Hutson spoke at the Carnegie Council forum: Ending Torture and Secret Detention in America’s Name. He said, “The great strength of the United States is that for generations our mission has been human rights and the rule of law which embodies everything else that we stand for. In losing our bearings with regard to human rights, with regard to support of the rule of law, we have undermined the fundamental strength of the United States, and we therefore risk losing the war.”
The United States used to consider water boarding a form of torture. It has become a litmus test for the GOP. If you don’t support torture, you can’t be a good Republican. That makes a certain ironic sense, given how they’ve tortured all of us since the 1980’s. In fact, if you don’t support torture, you can’t be president, as John McCain has learned. McCain, a former POW, has been outspoken in his opposition to water boarding and torture. In November of 2007, I sat in a TV station in Londonderry, listening, as Arnie Arneson interviewed McCain. I don’t agree with Senator McCain about much of anything politically, but I was impressed with how he spoke out against the US using torture. He spoke about the history of water boarding, and related the story of how it was considered a war crime by the US after WWII. His principled stance against torture impressed me, and impressed me even more, knowing that he is a member of the pro-torture political party.
That was in November, before he was the presumptive GOP nominee for president. This week, the Senate voted on the Intelligence Authorization Bill, which would require the intelligence community to abide by the same standards as the Army Field Manual, and bans water boarding. Senator McCain has been in favor of implementing the Army Field Manual standards. But that was before he became the likely GOP presidential nominee. When push came to shove this week, McCain voted against the bill, which passed. President Bush has said he will veto the bill. After he does, McCain will have to choose whether or not to stand with the president, or take a stand against torture. His vote on this bill seems to be an indication. The Straight Talk Express just crashed and burned.
“Other than perhaps the rack and thumbscrews, water boarding is the most iconic example of torture in history. It has been repudiated for centuries. It’s a little disconcerting to hear now that we’re not quite sure where water boarding fits in the scheme of things.” Dean John Hutson, in the panel following Muckaey’s testimony at his confirmation hearings.
Posted by susanthe at 10:31 AM