Sunday, November 11, 2007

Waterboarding = Drowning = Torture = Illegal = Immoral

A lot of discussion in the news this week concerned torture, conducted by U.S. soldiers in the conduct of this war on Terror. The context is the confirmation hearings of the new Attorney General, Mukasey. See: Despite Waterboarding Stance, Senate Committee Approves Mukasey’s Attorney General Nomination During the hearings Mukasey was questioned about his stance on torture, whether waterboarding is torture, etc.

There's a lot of pussyfooting around this issue... is it torture or is it not. Is it simulated drowning or the real thing. The Democracy Now story linked above does some truly excellent coverage of this issue.

Sen Ted Kennedy had some excellent things to say including:

...My concerns began with Judge Mukasey's answers to our questions about waterboarding. Waterboarding is a barbaric practice in which water is poured down the mouth and nose of a detainee to simulate drowning. It’s an ancient technique of tyrants. In the fifteenth and sixteenth century, it was used by interrogators in the Spanish Inquisition. In the nineteenth century, it was used against slaves in this country. In World War II, it was used against us by Japan. In the 1970s, it was used against political opponents by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the military dictatorships of Chile and Argentina. Today, it’s being used against pro-democracy activists by the rulers of Burma. When we fail to reject waterboarding, this is the company that we keep.

Make no mistake about it: waterboarding is already illegal under United States law. It’s illegal under the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit outrages upon personal dignity, including cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment. It’s illegal under the Torture Act, which prohibits acts specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering. It’s illegal under the Detainee Treatment Act, which prohibits cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. And it violates the Constitution. The nation's top military lawyers and legal experts across the political spectrum have condemned waterboarding as torture. And after World War II, the United States prosecuted -- prosecuted -- Japanese officers for engaging in waterboarding. What more does this nominee need to enforce existing laws?

It is the job of the Attorney General to enforce our Constitution laws. The Attorney General must have the legal and moral judgment to know when an activity rises to the level of a violation of our Constitution, treaties or statutes. But this nominee wants to outsource his job to Congress. That passing of the buck is completely unacceptable by a nominee who wants to be the highest justice official in our country. ...

A few days earlier Democracy Now interviewed a French journalist who had been tortured, with waterboarding, in Algiers. French Journalist Henri Alleg Describes His Torture Being Waterboarded by French Forces During Algerian War He made it clear, this is not simulated drowning, it is actual drowning, and that often it results in real death.

Likewie this interview with Stephen Grey, New PBS Documentary Gives Voice to Victims of U.S. “Extraordinary Rendition” also goes into not just the waterboarding and other torture techniques but the whole practice of extraordinary rendition.

In this weeks On The Media they discussed the media coverage of waterboarding in: Word Watch: Waterboarding To them this was an exercise in word definitions. Maybe that's a fair tact since that's what the inside-the-beltway-types in Washington DC are doing, parsing words carefully to tread a very narrow line of definition over what is or is not torture. But it seems to me that a practice that often results in death can not in any way be considered anything but torture. And listening to it I felt outrage that they skipped over the excellent coverage by Democracy Now.

Waterboarding is 'drowning', 'water torture': expert testimony is a recounting of a TV appearance by an expert who was also interviewed in the On The Media piece. Interrogation expert Malcolm Nance, who serves as a counterterrorism and intelligence consultant for the U.S. government and was formerly an instructor at the Navy's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school in California, did not mince when detailing the dangers of waterboarding, the highly controversial interrogation technique to which he was previously subjected.

Waterboarding Used to be a Crime (digg) "The United States military justice system has prosecuted "waterboarding" as a form of torture since the Spanish-American war. " An article by a former JAG who says "The media usually characterize the practice as "simulated drowning." That's incorrect. To be effective, waterboarding is usually real drowning that simulates death. That is, the victim experiences the sensations of drowning: struggle, panic, breath-holding, swallowing, vomiting, taking water into the lungs and, eventually, the same feeling of not being able to breathe that one experiences after being punched in the gut. The main difference is that the drowning process is halted. According to those who have studied waterboarding's effects, it can cause severe psychological trauma, such as panic attacks, for years."

The presidency is now a criminal conspiracy is Keith Olbermann going through his rage routine, raging at Bush's cowardice and the nonsense of this "debate" on whether waterboarding is torture or not. Daniel Levin, a former Acting Assistant Attorney General who asked the Army to waterboard him so he could understand the process. They did it, and he came out utterly convinced of it being torture, and when he started pushing that agenda the Bush Administration fired him. Bush Administration Blocked Waterboarding Critic is coverage of the same issue from ABC News. December 30, 2004 MEMORANDUM OPINION FOR THE DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL is a memo written by Daniel Levin in 2004 concerning torture. In the memo he goes through several court cases describing how different regimines of treatment were considered torture, including waterboarding. has a profile of Daniel Levin, Profile: Daniel Levin, making it clear this memo was meant to be written to supersede the infamous memo previously written by Alberto Gonzales

August 1, 2002: Justice Department Approves Torture of Terrorism Suspects is the coverage of that memo. The Aug 2002 memo defines torture as “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death” and that it "...appear to conclude that any act short of torture, even though it may be cruel, inhuman or degrading, would be permissible". But even under this definition waterboarding would be torture because it regularly causes death. In any case this Aug 2002 memo was used as cover for the CIA and other military agencies to "get more aggressive" with their techniques resulting in all the torture techniques we now know are being used.

Former Assistant AG Daniel Levin and the Importance of Hands-On Experience in Advising on the Law is a legal experts discussion of his experience and bravery in exploring just what waterboarding really is.

Wikipedia: Waterboarding, for reference purposes.

I remember from childhood hearing reference to "Chinese Water Torture" being described as an incessant dripping of water. My imagination had it pegged as something which I now recognize it is not. I thought, oh, they're just dripping water somewhere on the body, and that over a period of hours it will drive someone batty. Hurm, was I wrong. I now understand this is pouring water into someone's mouth, nostrils, throat, and into their lungs (if done long enough). That it is indeed a drowning which, if done properly, is interrupted before the drowning causes death. How this can be condoned as anything but torture, how it can be allowed as appropriate behavior by American military, that is beyond me. I don't think my idealism is misplaced in this case. If America is to stand as a model for the rest of the world, if we are to have the moral high ground with which to condemn other countries for torture, then we must also disallow our own people the practice of torture.

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