I have long argued in my column as well as numerous blog postings that our country is legally bound to prosecute people responsible for ordering torture during the Bush Administration. There is no question that water boarding is torture as recognized by President Obama, Attorney General Holder, the United Nations and virtually every expert in this field. However, while you may want to try to rewrite legal precedent (as did John Yoo and Jay Bybee in their infamous Torture Memos), you should not try to rewrite history. That is what former Vice President Dick Cheney appears to be doing this month. He told Chuck Todd on Sunday that we never prosecuted anyone for water boarding — an assertion that I and others have repeatedly raised over the years. The statement is simply false and adds historical revisionism to legal revisionism in our sordid foray into torture.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press” this last Sunday, Todd asked: “When you say waterboarding is not torture then why did we prosecute Japanese soldiers?”
“Not for waterboarding. They did an awful lot of other stuff. To draw some kind of moral equivalent between waterboarding judged by our Justice Department not to be torture and what the Japanese did with the Bataan Death March, with slaughter of thousands of Americans, with the rape of Nanking and all of the other crimes they committed, that’s an outrage. It’s a really cheap shot, Chuck, to even try to draw a parallel between the Japanese who were prosecuted for war crimes after World War II and what we did with waterboarding three individuals — all of whom are guilty and participated in the 9/11 attacks.”
In fact, we did prosecute. Indeed, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East convicted and ultimately executed Japanese war criminals Akira Muto and Iwane Matsui for atrocities at Nanking. This included water boarding prisoner, though it was called “the water treatment” where “the victim was bound or otherwise secured in a prone position; and water was forced through his mouth and nostrils into his lungs and stomach until he lost consciousness.”
Moreover, in 1947, we prosecuted Yukio Asano for the following these specific acts:
Specification 1: That in or about July or August, 1943, the accused Yukio Asano, did willfully and unlawfully, brutally mistreat and torture Morris O. Killough, an American Prisoner of War, by beating and kicking him, by fastening him on a stretcher and pouring water up his nostrils.
Specification 2: That on or about 15 May, 1944, at Fukoka Prisoner of War Branch Camp Number 3, Kyushu, Japan, the accused Yukio Asano, did, willfully and unlawfully, brutally mistreat and torture Thomas B. Armitage, William O. Cash and Munroe Dave Woodall, American Prisoners of War, by beating and kicking them, by forcing water into their mouths and noses, and by pressing lighted cigarettes against their bodies.
Specification 5. That between 1 April, 1943 and 31 December, 1943, the accused Yukio Asano, did, willfully and unlawfully, brutally mistreat and torture John Henry Burton, an American Prisoner of War, by beating him, and by fastening him head downward on a stretcher and forcing water into his nose.
Asanao was sentenced to 15 years confinement at hard labor.
As noted by the Washington Post, First Lt. Seitara Hata, Sgt. Major Takeo Kita and Sgt. Hideji Nakamura faced similar charges. As noted by the Post, the testimony included that of Cpt. William Arno Bluehe who said “After beating me for a while they would lash me to a stretcher, then prop me up against a table with my head down. They would then pour about two gallons of water from a pitcher into my nose and mouth until I lost consciousness. When I revived they would repeat the beatings and ‘water cure’ . . . . The tortures and beatings continued for about six hours.”
Then there was Thomas B. Armitage:
“[We] were strapped to stretchers and warm water poured down our nostrils until we were about ready to pass out. [The Japanese] strapped him to a stretcher and elevated his feet and then poured on his face so that it was almost impossible for him to get his breath. [The victim] was then taken into the corridor, strapped to a stretcher, which was tilted so that his head was toward the floor and feet resting on a nearby sink.Water was then poured down his nose and mouth for about twenty minutes. Then I was taken into the hallway of the barracks. Both of the Japanese still insisting I was guilty and urging me to confess.”
Likewise, during the Vietnam War, an American soldier was court-martialed for water boarding a prisoner.
Ironically, while the Senate Report works hard to exonerate the Senators themselves from their past knowledge as well as Bush and Cheney, Cheney to his credit has admitted that both he and Bush were fully informed of the use of program.
The cost of our torture program — and the failure to prosecute a single official for it (or the destruction of evidence and false statements revealed in its aftermath) will continue to cost this country dearly. Countries like Iran, North Korea, and China have already cited our use of water boarding to defend against their own abuses. When our soldiers or citizens are water boarded in the future, countries will play back Cheney’s words and others to say that such abuse is not torture. When we demand that officials in other countries be prosecuted for torture, they will mock our hypocrisy and own history. As much as history may be an inconvenient contradiction for people like Cheney, it will remain unrevised and unvarnished. We have prosecuted both Americans and foreigners for water boarding and we were right to do so. That is not the history that we should work to forget.