December 28, 2007
“Funston’s example has bred many imitators, and many ghastly additions to our history: the torturing of Filipinos by the awful ‘water-cure,’ for instance, to make them confess — what? Truth? Or lies? How can one know which it is they are telling? For under unendurable pain a man confesses anything that is required of him, true or false, and his evidence is worthless.” ~ Mark Twain
“The Army exists, not just to win America’s wars, but to defend America’s values. The policy and practice of torture without accountability has jeopardized both.” ~ David R. Irvine Brig. Gen. (Ret.) USA
Defined by Theodore Roosevelt as “an old Filipino method of mild torture” the debate about the use of waterboarding continues in this modern age. Seen by most as a brutal form of torture and intimidation the question of its use and legality is now an issue that is openly debated in American politics. It should be noted however, that the current debate shares its roots in a long and shameful history of US policies based in imperial desires and blatant racism dating back as far as 1898.
As Americans approach the 110th anniversary of the “water cure” being used by US interrogators, a glance at 18 U.S.C 2340 2(a) which clearly defines torture as, the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering, shows us that the use of waterboarding is indeed considered torture. Notably, in a letter written by a US soldier deployed in the Philippines, he had used the water cure on 160 people and only 26 had survived. In a report released by Human Rights First, documentation of over 100 murders of detainees in US custody have occurred. However, these numbers alone cannot be entirely trusted because most autopsy reports of detainees are kept classified by the CIA where any agents may be implicated in the murder investigation. Regardless of this secrecy, investigations into the murders of several detainees reveal the role of water in the victims’ death. In light of these deaths, both present and past, the argument that waterboarding is not torture looses significant ground.
As recently as 2002 the Department of Justice stated that physical pain had to be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death to constitute torture. By this logic, forced digit removal, broken limbs, and beatings would not be considered torture. The DOJ itself has since denounced this memo, yet this ridiculous debate surrounding the use of torture and waterboarding continues.
One would think that a look at recent US history could settle this question for us as well. Remarkably, the United States convicted Axis officers of war crimes for organizing and participating in military tribunals that relied on evidence obtained by torture including the “water cure”.
As noted by the ACLU, fifty years later, it ill-suits this country to conduct war crimes trials of Guantanamo detainees under rules structured to allow admission of the same type of evidence.