The United States military justice system has prosecuted “waterboarding” as a form of torture since the Spanish-American war.
As a JAG in the Nevada National Guard, I used to lecture the soldiers of the 72nd Military Police Company every year about their legal obligations when they guarded prisoners.
The United States knows quite a bit about waterboarding. The U.S. government – whether acting alone before domestic courts, commissions and courts-martial or as part of the world community – has not only condemned the use of water torture but has severely punished those who applied it.After World War II, we convicted several Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American and Allied prisoners of war. At the trial of his captors, then-Lt. Chase J. Nielsen, one of the 1942 Army Air Forces officers who flew in the Doolittle Raid and was captured by the Japanese, testified: “I was given several types of torture…. I was given what they call the water cure.” He was asked what he felt when the Japanese soldiers poured the water. “Well, I felt more or less like I was drowning,” he replied, “just gasping between life and death.”
Nielsen’s experience was not unique. Nor was the prosecution of his captors. After Japan surrendered, the United States organized and participated in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, generally called the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. Leading members of Japan’s military and government elite were charged, among their many other crimes, with torturing Allied military personnel and civilians. The principal proof upon which their torture convictions were based was conduct that we would now call waterboarding.
a number of Japanese prison-camp officers and guards were convicted of torture that clearly violated the laws of war. They were not the only defendants convicted in such cases. As far back as the U.S. occupation of the Philippines after the 1898 Spanish-American War, U.S. soldiers were court-martialed for using the “water cure” to question Filipino guerrillas.
More recently, waterboarding cases have appeared in U.S. district courts. One was a civil action brought by several Filipinos seeking damages against the estate of former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos. The plaintiffs claimed they had been subjected to torture, including water torture. The court awarded $766 million in damages, noting in its findings that “the plaintiffs experienced human rights violations including, but not limited to … the water cure, where a cloth was placed over the detainee’s mouth and nose, and water producing a drowning sensation.”
In 1983, federal prosecutors charged a Texas sheriff and three of his deputies with violating prisoners’ civil rights by forcing confessions. The complaint alleged that the officers conspired to “subject prisoners to a suffocating water torture ordeal in order to coerce confessions. This generally included the placement of a towel over the nose and mouth of the prisoner and the pouring of water in the towel until the prisoner began to move, jerk, or otherwise indicate that he was suffocating and/or drowning.”
The four defendants were convicted, and the sheriff was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
“Anyone who knows what waterboarding is could not be unsure. It is a horrible torture technique used by Pol Pot and being used on Buddhist monks as we speak. People who have worn the uniform and had the experience know that this is a terrible and odious practice and should never be condoned in the U.S. We are a better nation than that,” – Senator John McCain, on Michael Mukasey’s refusal to state that waterboarding is torture.
It tells you everything you need to know about what has happened to the Republican party that this good man is now ignored on a subject on which no other Senator has comparable authority. But Dick Cheney, a man who never served his country in uniform, now gets to define the meaning of American honor down. For him, as for the Khmer Rouge, waterboarding is a “no-brainer”. Actually, it’s a no-souler.