25 Apr 2009

Begala is Wrong

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Paul Begala, at Huffington Post, thinks he’s very clever in quoting the not-clever-at-all John McCain who is also completely wrong.

In a CNN debate with Ari Fleischer, I said the United States executed Japanese war criminals for waterboarding. My point was that it is disingenuous for Bush Republicans to argue that waterboarding is not torture and thus illegal. It’s kind of awkward to argue that waterboarding is not a crime when you hanged someone for doing it to our troops. My precise words were: “Our country executed Japanese soldiers who waterboarded American POWs. We executed them for the same crime we are now committing ourselves.” …

I was referencing the statement of a different member of the Senate: John McCain. On November 29, 2007, Sen. McCain, while campaigning in St. Petersburg, Florida, said, “Following World War II war crime trials were convened. The Japanese were tried and convicted and hung for war crimes committed against American POWs. Among those charges for which they were convicted was waterboarding.”

Sen. McCain was right and the National Review Online is wrong. Politifact, the St. Petersburg Times’ truth-testing project (which this week was awarded a Pulitzer Prize), scrutinized Sen. McCain’s statement and found it to be true. Here’s the money quote from Politifact:

    “McCain is referencing the Tokyo Trials, officially known as the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. After World War II, an international coalition convened to prosecute Japanese soldiers charged with torture. At the top of the list of techniques was water-based interrogation, known variously then as ‘water cure,’ ‘water torture’ and ‘waterboarding,’ according to the charging documents. It simulates drowning.” Politifact went on to report, “A number of the Japanese soldiers convicted by American judges were hanged, while others received lengthy prison sentences or time in labor camps.”

Actually, murders, massacres, and death marches head the International Military Tribunal for the Far East’s list of war crimes, and the use of water simply happens to the first item addressed in a subsequent heading titled “Torture and Other Inhumane Treatment.” Since burning, flogging, strappado, and pulling out finger and toe nails are mentioned after the “water cure,” it is far from obvious that the authors of the Tribunal’s list of war crimes were intending to rank it as more inhumane than the others.

Politifact’s anonymous authorities (drawn from presumably the staffs of the St. Petersburg Times and the Congressional Quarterly which created Politifact as a joint venture) are betraying their own liberal journalist prejudices and manipulating the available data to suit their own preferences.

They, and Paul Begala and John McCain, are most particularly and obviously in error in equating the Japanese “water cure” torture with US water-boarding.

In the “water cure,” according to the Tribunal’s war crimes description, [t]he 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. Pressure was then applied, sometimes by jumping upon his abdomen to force the water out. The usual practice was to revive the victim and successively repeat the process.

The Tribunal does not mention it, but historically the “water cure” torture technique was often performed with sufficient brutality that internal organs would be ruptured with fatal results, or merely performed excessively to the point where the victim’s body’s electrolyte balance was fatally compromised, producing death by “water intoxication.”

In the “water-cure,” the victim’s mouth is forced open, and enormous quantities of water are poured down his throat. If he fails to swallow any of the rapidly-poured water, it goes into his lungs and he really does experience drowning.

In the US-government-authorized water-boarding of three mass murderers, a cloth or cellophane barrier was placed over the criminal’s face and water poured on it for intervals of 10 to 40 seconds. Water was specifically prevented from entering the subject’s respiratory system.

Elaborate and carefully calculated protocols had been laid down, in precisely the opposite manner of the Japanese case, 1) confining the use of such comparatively harsh interrogation techniques to a tiny number of extremely guilty terrorists likely to possess extremely vital information on major threats to the lives of many thousands of innocent American civilians, and 2) assuring that no real lasting physical or mental harm was ever actually inflicted on the three major terrorist prisoners.

Those are extremely significant differences, Mr. Begala.

Beyond that, Begala, Politifact, and even Senator McCain overlook another very important consideration: the laws and customs of war.

We punished the defeated Japanese after WWII, and US troops commonly punished Japanese encountered in the field by offering no quarter, for Japanese disregard of the civilized European world’s military customs of avoiding the practice of perfidy (i.e. not falsely surrendering and then opening fire, not wearing the wrong uniform, and so on) and according prisoners of war honorable status and treating them humanely.

We do not owe Al Qaeda terrorists prisoner of war status. We do not, in fact, owe them, by the conventional laws and customs of war, anything beyond summary execution following drumhead courts martial at the pleasure of the officer in immediate authority. United States military forces, in fact, would by traditional standards not only possess every right to extract forcibly by any measures necessary any and all information necessary to preserve innocent life, they would have a grave obligation to do so.

It is the Al Qaeda terrorists who, like the Japanese in WWII, reject the civilized world’s customs of limiting behavior in war. And, as we punished the Japanese during and after WWII for failing to adopt our customs, we ought to be punishing Al Qaeda terrorists the same way for the same reasons. That is how the laws and customs of war are enforced.

Terrorist prisoners, in their capacity as hostis humani generis, by the conventional laws and customs of war for thousands of years, are entitled to nothing whatsoever in the form of rights, judicial proceeding, or sympathy. They deserve absolutely nothing other than execution by some harsh method particularly expressive of contumely like hanging.


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