Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Waterboarding isTorture, Period

There has been considerable discussion lately about what interrogation techniques are permissible, and under what circumstances, with a particular focus on methods that the CIA has admitted to using in the five years since the 9/11 attacks. One of those methods is called waterboarding, and it is unequivocally — under existing U.S. legal precedents — a war crime.

Read more...During World War II, the Japanese army held thousands of prisoners of war, including American soldiers. Although the Geneva Conventions were expanded after the war, they existed before the war, and Japan was a signatory. However, in its pursuit of total victory at all costs, Japan chose to ignore its obligations under the Geneva Convention of 1929, using torture, slave labor, and other forms of abuse against military and civilian prisoners. After the war, Japan was widely condemned for the inhumanity of its policies, and many Japanese military officers were tried and convicted of war crimes under United States law. One of those war crimes was an interrogation practice markedly similar to what we now call waterboarding. Japanese interrogators covered the prisoner's face with a cloth (Our CIA uses cellophane.) and then poured water on it to create the sensation of drowning, and one Japanese doctor was sentenced to 25 years in prison for that and other abuses.

I've never been a prisoner of war; in fact, I've never been in the military, much less in combat. However, I did almost drown two years ago. I was swimming in a river with a current that was stronger than my badly out of practice swimming skills. By the time I realized I was in real trouble, it was almost too late. As I was desperately trying to swim over to the side, I reached the point of absolute and total physical exhaustion, the point where I could not move another muscle for love nor money, but the stakes were higher than that, and luckily I was out of the worst of the current and only a few more feet from shore. I summoned reserves of stamina I didn't even know I had, and managed to pull myself out of the water. However, I did pay a price for tapping into those reserves: I sat for a full 15 minutes with my heart racing about 150 beats per minute and my breathing almost matching that pace, and I vomited convulsively three times, completely emptying my stomach and still vomiting more. My pupils remained dilated for over an hour, despite bright sunlight. As horrific as that experience was, given a choice between repeating it or being subjected to waterboarding, I would go back to that river bank. My momentary close call was nothing compared to the deliberate and sadistic repeated infliction of the sensation of drowning.

If America is to say honestly that we do not practice torture, then we must not practice waterboarding.

The legal precedent is crystal clear: the CIA interrogators who engaged in waterboarding can be, and indeed must be tried and convicted in U.S. courts under U.S. law of war crimes. "I was just following orders" is not a defense against war crimes, so if their superiors approved or even specifically ordered waterboarding, that doesn't let the interrogators off the hook, although it does mean that any such superiors — up to and including President Bush — must join them in prison. Anything less will endanger Americans around the world for a generation or more.

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