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Steve Likes to Curse
Writing, comics and random thoughts from really a rather vulgar man
How times have changed 
Thursday, April 30th, 2009 | 01:50 pm [commentary, history, politics]

Something jumped out at me the other day as I watched Christopher Hitchens being interviewed by Brian Lamb on C-SPAN’s Q&A. Lamb asked Hitchens about waterboarding, whether or not he considered it torture. Among the many pundits who continue to weigh in on the issue, Hitchens is uniquely qualified, since he has actually been waterboarded. He called it torture. Then he said something very interesting: “The United States has always said of any regime that used it on an American that it is torture.”


No shit?  Turns out Hitchens was right: following World War II, the U.S. played a central role in prosecuting Japanese soldiers for war crimes, including using what they called the “water cure” on Allied prisoners of war. In one such case Seitaro Hata, Yukio Asano, Takeo Kita, and Hideji Nakamura, all members of or contractors to the Japanese Imperial Army, were convicted of waterboarding four American P.O.W’s and sentenced to twenty years of confinement and hard labor.


And lest you think the Bush-era reversal of the ban on waterboarding was just typical “it’s okay when we do it” hypocrisy, there are also several incidents where Americans have been convicted of using waterboarding on prisoners and punished. In 1898 the United States took possession of the Philippines following the Spanish-American War. American troops were soon in conflict with Philippine nationalists, and accounts of cruelty and mistreatment of prisoners at the hands of the Americans were soon widespread. The occupation of the Philippines became something of a national scandal, leading to public outcry and congressional inquiries. Eventually Army Major Edwin Glenn was court-martialed and convicted of “resort[ing] to torture with a view to extort a confession,” though Major Glenn’s punishment consisted only of a one-month suspension and a $50 fine.


Okay, so an American soldier getting a slap on the wrist for waterboarding a Filipino prisoner isn’t exactly the unequivocal rebuke of the technique that I would like to be able to point to in this debate. Luckily, that ain’t all I got. There’s also the case of James Parker, Sheriff of San Jacinto County, Texas.


In 1983 Parker and three of his deputies were convicted on multiple counts of using waterboarding to elicit confessions from prisoners. At sentencing the judge called Parker and his fellow defendants “a bunch of thugs,” and said that “the operation down there would embarrass the dictator of a country.” Sheriff Parker was ordered to serve 10 years in prison, the maximum sentence allowed, and fined $12,000.


The issue seems clear to me. Throughout our history, up until the current decade, waterboarding has always been a form of torture, a punishable crime, no matter who does it, be they members of an enemy army, or one of our own soldiers, or an American law enforcement officer. It has always been a crime, it ought to be, and a free and humane nation of the sort we claim to be should never do it. President Obama, Christopher Hitchens, and law professor and former Judge Advocate General Evan Wallach (who wrote the Washington Post article and the more in-depth report which I used as a source here) are right, and those who continue to justify waterboarding and piss and moan about American agents not using it anymore are wrong.

Friday, May 1st, 2009 | 01:30 am (UTC) - A Different Opinon
Hi Steve,

Love your show. Thanks for taking my call. I wish the whole waterboarding thing stayed hush-hush, as nutty as that sounds. I say this because after 10 years in the US military, I've come to realize that there are some truly evil fuckers in the world that you need to waltz to the edge of death before they will give up info that is needed. Needed to save innocent lives, needed to prevent horrible, elaborate plots from being carried out. And these same evil fuckers are doing the same to us- or far worse. So waterboard away... just keep it out of the media so all those who think that the world really is peachy and warm don't have to be troubled with it.

I'll take my answer off line.
Friday, May 1st, 2009 | 04:00 pm (UTC) - Re: A Different Opinon
Hey, thanks for taking a moment to comment! It's always an odd feeling when I see that real people with real, sometimes heavy life experiences are reading my filthy little blog.

And thanks for sharing your opinion. I know that many military vets favor waterboarding (and even more extreme forms of torture) for just the reasons you cite. But I also know that many veterans hold the opposite opinion, that the U.S. ought not engage in torture, including waterboarding, for any reason, that it isn't actually necessary, and that it ought to be a prosecutable crime no matter who does it. Jack Jacobs, for example, and John McCain.

So to me, it comes down to a question of which military opinions you lend the most weight. And obviously, I'm lending the most weight to the guys I agree with.

I also think consistency is important. Yesterday I heard Mark Levin say on his daily nationally broadcast rant that just because the Obama administration says waterboarding is torture doesn't mean it is. Fair enough. But it's not just the Obama administration -- it's the United States of America, regardless of who sits in the president's chair, for all but the last few years of our history. We have always defined waterboarding as torture and a crime, whether our enemies did it to us, or whether we did it to them or to ourselves (excepting training exercises, naturally).

Why is it suddenly no longer torture? Why is it suddenly permissable for us to do it, when we have responded to threats in the past without sanctioning the torture of our enemies?

I get what you're saying, I know there are hideously evil motherfuckers in the world, and believe me I don't lose sleep over a few CIA agents making a terrorist uncomfortable for a few minutes. It's the larger issue that concerns me. We fancy ourselves a free society, a just and humane society. Free, just and humane societies don't torture people. When they did it to us, we prosecuted them and locked them up for decades. Why should it be any different when we do it?
Friday, May 1st, 2009 | 09:59 pm (UTC) - Re: A Different Opinon
Steve- you've actually got a good blog going, should be no surprise that people read it on occasion. On the torture thing- it sounds warped, I know- but not everything should be in the media. I know freedom of the press keeps the government honest, but we can't be the only honest government in the world. Torturing the enemy is some callous, medieval shit. Unfortunately, it's still necessary. But it does leave bad taste.
Friday, May 1st, 2009 | 10:13 pm (UTC) - Re: A Different Opinon
You seem to be saying that torturing the enemy is sometimes an ugly necessity. I, from the comfort of my air-conditioned home, sitting safely on my soft, never-risked ass, disagree. But I can respect your opinion a lot more than I can those of others who aren't merely arguing that torture should be an option in a dangerous world, but who want to persuade me that there's nothing wrong with it and we should not only torture our enemies whenever necessary, but do so proudly and singing "God Bless America" while we pour water down some terrorist's nostrils, or wire his nuts up to a car battery.

My Dad, a second-generation Navy vet and a great guy, holds this opinion. It's not so bad, really — we disagree on lots of stuff, so that's no big deal. I just wish he wouldn't talk about "torturing those sons of bitches just for something to do!" over Easter dinner. He did pay for the ham, though; he's got the right, I guess.

Edited at 2009-05-01 10:14 pm (UTC)
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