Wednesday, November 14, 2007


From the McClatchy Newspapers wire:

"Did Bill Clinton have sex with that woman? Is Elvis Presley really dead? Is the Pope Catholic? Does a bear do his ablutions in the woods? Is waterboarding torture?

The answer to all of these questions, put simply, is yes.

All of Judge Michael Mukasey's artful dodging and word play to avoid acknowledging the obvious to the august members of Senate Judiciary Committee does nothing to change the fact.

When you hog-tie a human being, tilt him head down, stuff a rag in his mouth and over his nostrils and pour water onto the rag slowly and steadily to the point where his lungs fill with water and he's suffocating and drowning, that is torture.

Four decades ago in the field in Vietnam, I saw a suspected Viet Cong waterboarded by South Vietnamese Army troops. The American Army advisers who were attached to the Vietnamese unit turned their backs and walked away before the torture began. It was then a Vietnamese affair and something they couldn't be associated with.

The victim was taken to the edge of death. His body was wracked with spasms as he fought for air. The soldier holding the five-gallon kerosene tin filled with muddy water from a nearby stream kept pouring it slowly onto the rag, and the victim desperately sucking for even a little air kept inhaling that water instead.

It seemed to go on forever. Did the suspect talk? I'm sure he did. I'm sure he told his torturers whatever he thought they wanted to hear, whether it was true or not. But I didn't see the end of it because one of the American advisers came to me and told me I had to leave; that I couldn't watch this interrogation, if that's what it was, any longer.

That adviser knew that water torture was torture; he knew that it was outlawed by the Geneva Convention; he knew that he couldn't be a part to it; and he knew that he didn't want me to witness such brutality.

Every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee knows that waterboarding is torture, even the majority who voted to send Judge Mukasey's nomination to be attorney general, America's chief law enforcement official, to the floor for a vote.

Waterboarding was torture when it was used during the Spanish Inquisition; it was torture when it was used on Filipino rebels during the 1890s; it was torture when the Japanese Army used it on prisoners in World War II; it was torture when it was used by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia; and it's torture when CIA officers or others use it on terrorists.

When George W. Bush was the governor of Texas, the state investigated, indicted, convicted and sentenced to prison for 10 years a county sheriff who, with his deputies, had waterboarded a criminal suspect. That sheriff got no pardon from Gov. Bush.

Waterboarding is torture in the eyes of all civilized peoples, no matter how desperately President George W. Bush tries to rewrite the English language, with which he has only a passing familiarity, anyway. No matter how desperately his entire administration tries to redefine the word "torture" to cover the fact that not only have they acquiesced in its use, but they also have ordered its use.

The president, Vice President Dick Cheney, and their cronies and legal mouthpieces such as David Addington, John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales are doing all they can to avoid one day facing the bar of justice, at home or in The Hague, and being called to account for crimes against humanity.

They want a blank check pardon, and they'll continue searching for attorneys general and judges and justices and senators and members of Congress who'll hand them their stay-out-of-jail-free cards.

As they squirm and wriggle and lie and quibble and cut deals with senators, they claim that "harsh interrogation methods" are necessary to prevent another 9/11. But as terrified as they are by terrorists, they also fear that one day they may be treated no better than some fallen South American dictator or Cambodian despot or hapless Texas sheriff; that they might not be able to leave a guarded, gated compound in Dallas or Crawford, a ranch in New Mexico or the shores of Chesapeake Bay for fear of arrest and extradition.

No more shopping trips to Paris. No vacations on the Costa Brava. No interludes on some billionaire buddy's yacht in the Caribbean. No jetting around the world making speeches to fat cats at $1 million a pop like other former presidents. Even Canada would be off-limits.

Now the Democrats, or some of them, are conspiring with them to seat an attorney general who will help facilitate the ever more frantic search for ex post facto immunity for their crimes. Shame on them! There's such a thing as too loyal an opposition; too cowardly an opposition; too craven an opposition.

Waterboarding is torture. Decent people have acknowledged that for centuries. We sent Japanese war criminals to the gallows for using it. We sent a Texas sheriff to prison for using it. One day, an ex-president and those who helped him and those he ordered to torture fellow human beings may have to plea bargain for their lives and their freedom."

—Joseph L. Galloway | McClatchy Newspapers


Unknown said...

As a small child I had nightmares about being waterboarded. I have no idea whereI got those dreams from. As far as i can recall I couldn't possibly have known of the technique.
Nightmares, however, is one thing. Reality another.
This is a bigger issue than it's made out to be as of yet. Thank you for publishing the article. I hope you're not the only one doing so. I will.

Unknown said...

I found this article covered the subject very thoroughly.

On the Care and Feeding of Terrorists
By Paul Greenberg
Wednesday, November 7, 2007

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"If it's December 1941 in Casablanca, what time is it in New York? I bet they're asleep in New York. I bet they're asleep all over America."

- Humphrey Bogart as Rick in "Casablanca"

Demonstrator Maboud Ebrahimzadeh is held down during a simulation of waterboarding outside the Justice Departement in Washington November 5, 2007. The confirmation of Bush nominee Michael Mukasey as attorney general is in jeopardy after his refusal to state whether the interrogation techinque known as waterboarding violates U.S. laws banning torture. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES)
Related Media:
VIDEO: Mukasey and the Democrats
VIDEO: Mukasey Calls Torture Memo a 'Mistake'
VIDEO: Mukasey Grilled
Everybody knows there are certain moral principles engraved in stone: Thou Shalt Not Kill, for example. Except of course in self-defense. Or war. Or in other cases of justifiable homicide. Don't lie, either. Except of course when the Gestapo is knocking on the door looking for the neighbors you've hidden in the attic. And torture is bad. That should go without saying, which is why every high-minded editorial page in the country seems to be saying it, for they all seem to have a knack for pointing out the obvious: Torture bad.

Ah, but what's torture - short rations? Being hooded day and night? Solitary confinement? Where does torture begin, just after harassment and just before death? Today's favorite example, issue, and shibboleth: Waterboarding! Is it ever, ever permissible? Even if it's not, do we tell our enemies they need not fear it? Such are the questions now holding up the confirmation of an exceptionally well-qualified judge named Michael Mukasey as the next attorney general of the United States.

The judge refuses to break down and say the magic words - "I won't allow waterboarding" - no matter how hard he's pressed by that Senate committee. Why not? Maybe because he suspects that, after reciting that pledge, others will be required of him until, step by step, he finds himself in the position of poor, beleaguered and mentally outgunned Alberto Gonzales.

For as counsel to the president, Mr. Gonzales found himself approving step-by-step torture memos specifying just how much torture/abuse/human degradation/minor irritation could be legally permitted. That way lies a lot of embarrassment and not much enlightenment - because it divorces such decisions from context, and therefore from reality.

Judge Mukasey may be wise enough to know that in practice the various Thou Shalt Nots depend on the circumstances, like the application of any other sacred principle. But what circumstances could possibly justify scaring a terrorist almost to death?

To cite the classic hypothetical: What if thousands of innocent lives could be saved by waterboarding one terrorist? Consider the case of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind the September 11th attacks. Word has it the he revealed al-Qaida's whole table of organization in Europe after being waterboarded.

Is there any ethically acceptable response to what has become The Great Waterboarding Question? Yes, there is: Don't deal in hypotheticals. Yes, by all means, outlaw torture, which is what the U.S. government has done, but why define it overmuch?

Instead, well-groomed senators in coats and ties and clean fingernails sit in their nice, spacious air-conditioned hearing room and tell CIA interrogators, military judges and all those whose duty it is to prevent another September 11th - and who have been remarkably successful, so far - what they may do and what they may not do when it comes to the care and feeding of terrorists.

Just where are the boundaries in this war on terror? That war has been so forgotten that some that some even object to its name. They'd much prefer to slip back into the dream of security that the country enjoyed during the 1990s as one attack after another was left to the usual criminal proceedings - before September 11th shook America awake. continued...

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How are we now to handle the terrorists that, through the great exertions of dedicated Americans and our allies, have fallen into our hands? As ordinary criminal defendants with all the rights and privileges appertaining to? What should the law say? What should the next attorney general of the United States say?

My answer: Not too much. Such questions are why we have judges and courts and the saving common law - to weigh the context of each case rather than pretend we can foresee each and every circumstance that will arise and draw up rules and regulations to cover every one of them in some comprehensive Napoleonic code of interrogation. A short word for that approach is folly.

Demonstrator Maboud Ebrahimzadeh is held down during a simulation of waterboarding outside the Justice Departement in Washington November 5, 2007. The confirmation of Bush nominee Michael Mukasey as attorney general is in jeopardy after his refusal to state whether the interrogation techinque known as waterboarding violates U.S. laws banning torture. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES)
Related Media:
VIDEO: Mukasey and the Democrats
VIDEO: Mukasey Calls Torture Memo a 'Mistake'
VIDEO: Mukasey Grilled
There's a reason why the greatest of legal guides - like the Ten Commandments and the Constitution of the United States tend to be written in general terms.

The fabled case in good old Anglo-Saxon law is that of the British admiral who won a great victory by breaking the line of battle against orders. What was to be done with him? The court decided to decorate and hang him, not necessarily in that order. Those of us who think the administration of justice should consider context, and prefer to be guided by actual outcomes rather than abstract theory, can hope the admiral was pardoned while still drawing breath.

Surely such a solution would be satisfactory to all, with the possible exception of the enemy. Should some interrogator torture a highly illegal combatant in U.S. custody in the course of saving the Republic, he could be presented his reprimand, medal and pardon all at the same time. But if it turns out he's been torturing some innocent camel driver from the Hindu Kush, let's throw the book at him. All the books. Let's go by results.

Rather than start compiling a list of non-negotiable Thou Shalt Nots, the distinguished senators in that hearing room should come out against torture and leave it at that, which is what this administration finally did. The alternative is to follow the hapless Alberto Gonzales into the step-by-step mire of deciding just what is unallowable torture and just what is "only" degrading and inhumane treatment. Go down that road and we could wind up outlawing basic training.

Somebody needs to remind these senators, not to mention the various literati and glitterati that are so concerned about the lives of terrorists - no, the comfort of terrorists - that we're at war (remember?) and can debate these fine points after victory is won, maybe decades from now, just as we now debate Abraham Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus, not to mention freedom of the press. Mr. Lincoln had a way of putting first things first, like the preservation of the Union.

Going back to first things tends to put such questions in perspective. So does remembering a little history. Like December 7, 1941. And September 11, 2001. Instead, they're still asleep all over America.

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