When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” So said Humpty Dumpty to a bewildered Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. It appears that Dick Cheney believes exactly the same thing as he continues to redefine reality in order to exonerate himself for his war crimes. In an interview with the Mooney Times, Cheney says that waterboarding is not torture because they got lawyers to tell them it wasn’t:
“I think there were a total of about 33 who were subjected to enhanced interrogation; only three of those who were subjected to waterboarding,” Cheney told the paper, according to a transcript released by the Vice President’s office Monday. “Was it torture? I don’t believe it was torture. We spent a great deal of time and effort getting legal advice, legal opinion out of the Office of Legal Counsel, which is where you go for those kinds of opinions, from the Department of Justice as to where the red lines were out there in terms of this you can do, this you can’t do. The CIA handled itself, I think, very appropriately.”
I suppose, then, that Cheney thinks the United States should apologize to all those Japanese and German soldiers we convicted of war crimes for waterboarding during WW2? And to those American soldiers we’ve convicted of doing the same thing? Of course not. This new definition applies only to what he does, not to what others do. When others do it, it’s torture; when we do it, it’s okay. We’re America and we don’t do bad things, so when we do the things that others do that we call bad, they’re not bad when we do them. QED.
But look at what Judge Evan Wallach, one of the nation’s foremost experts in the laws of war and a former JAG officer, wrote a year ago:
The United States knows quite a bit about waterboarding. The U.S. government — whether acting alone before domestic courts, commissions and courts-martial or as part of the world community — has not only condemned the use of water torture but has severely punished those who applied it.
After World War II, we convicted several Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American and Allied prisoners of war. At the trial of his captors, then-Lt. Chase J. Nielsen, one of the 1942 Army Air Forces officers who flew in the Doolittle Raid and was captured by the Japanese, testified: “I was given several types of torture. . . . I was given what they call the water cure.” He was asked what he felt when the Japanese soldiers poured the water. “Well, I felt more or less like I was drowning,” he replied, “just gasping between life and death.”
Nielsen’s experience was not unique. Nor was the prosecution of his captors. After Japan surrendered, the United States organized and participated in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, generally called the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. Leading members of Japan’s military and government elite were charged, among their many other crimes, with torturing Allied military personnel and civilians. The principal proof upon which their torture convictions were based was conduct that we would now call waterboarding….
As a result of such accounts, a number of Japanese prison-camp officers and guards were convicted of torture that clearly violated the laws of war. They were not the only defendants convicted in such cases. As far back as the U.S. occupation of the Philippines after the 1898 Spanish-American War, U.S. soldiers were court-martialed for using the “water cure” to question Filipino guerrillas.
More recently, waterboarding cases have appeared in U.S. district courts. One was a civil action brought by several Filipinos seeking damages against the estate of former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos. The plaintiffs claimed they had been subjected to torture, including water torture. The court awarded $766 million in damages, noting in its findings that “the plaintiffs experienced human rights violations including, but not limited to . . . the water cure, where a cloth was placed over the detainee’s mouth and nose, and water producing a drowning sensation.”
In 1983, federal prosecutors charged a Texas sheriff and three of his deputies with violating prisoners’ civil rights by forcing confessions. The complaint alleged that the officers conspired to “subject prisoners to a suffocating water torture ordeal in order to coerce confessions. This generally included the placement of a towel over the nose and mouth of the prisoner and the pouring of water in the towel until the prisoner began to move, jerk, or otherwise indicate that he was suffocating and/or drowning.”
The four defendants were convicted, and the sheriff was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
If only Emperor Hirohito had taken the time to open an Office of Legal Counsel and paid lawyers to tell him it was okay, he could use this excuse too.