The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Torture, torture, it pleasures me!

Waterboarding. I'm sure there are plenty of people wonderinng why there's even a discussion about whether this qualifies as torture. But the feckless MSM seems willing to apply their usual 50-50 time for a 95-5 issue, a la global warming, even though the only people claiming it's anything but torture historically identified with brutal and ruthless regimes are Fox News clowns, reactionary politicians, and probably some evangelical leaders.

But don't take my word for it. The WaPo recently featured an op-ed in which an accomplished gentleman who's served as JAG, professor of law, and judge describes the practice and America's historic relationship with 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.

But howzabout I do him one better? Because waterboarding isn't a modern invention by any means. Neither is its equivalence with torture. Here's an example of it turning up in literature:

The prisoner underwent the first and second applications with unshrinking courage, but on the infliction of the water-torture, which is indeed insupportable to humanity, either to suffer or relate, he exclaimed in the gasping interval, he would disclose every thing.

That's from the 1820 novel Melmoth the Wanderer, written by an Irish clergyman. And he's writing about the preferred methods of the Inquisition circa 1675. So for at least 300 years, this has been considered not just a cruel and inhumane practice, but one so vile that it's reserved for a time when other methods just aren't brutal enough.

But somehow, in 21st-century America, tormenting suspects-- including the innocent-- through a method preferred by swell guys from Torquemada to Pol Pot is subject to debate.

It's insane. Which must be why National Review is all for it. And why Rudy Giuliani approves. Who doesn't? George H. W. Bush, it would appear. But you might expect that from one of the last Republicans in high office to both see combat and demonstrate some moral integrity.