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Joe Galloway: Is Waterboarding Torture?

11/07/2007

Is waterboarding torture?

By Joseph L. Galloway

McClatchy Newspapers

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.

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