Top Leaderboard, Site wide
September 17, 2014
Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines
Help us grow by sharing
and liking Truthdig:
Sign up for Truthdig's Email NewsletterLike Truthdig on FacebookFollow Truthdig on TwitterSubscribe to Truthdig's RSS Feed

Newsletter

sign up to get updates






On the Run


Truthdig Bazaar more items

 
Report

‘I Begged for Them to Stop’

Email this item Email    Print this item Print    Share this item... Share

Posted on Feb 26, 2013
Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com (CC BY 2.0)

By Nick Turse, TomDispatch

This piece first appeared at TomDispatch. Read Tom Engelhardt’s introduction here.

Try to remain calm—even as you begin to feel your chest tighten and your heart race.  Try not to panic as water starts flowing into your nose and mouth, while you attempt to constrict your throat and slow your breathing and keep some air in your lungs and fight that growing feeling of suffocation.  Try not to think about dying, because there’s nothing you can do about it, because you’re tied down, because someone is pouring that water over your face, forcing it into you, drowning you slowly and deliberately.  You’re helpless.  You’re in agony

In short, you’re a victim of “water torture.” Or the “water cure.”  Or the “water rag.”  Or the “water treatment.” Or “tormenta de toca.”  Or any of the other nicknames given to the particular form of brutality that today goes by the relatively innocuous term “waterboarding.” 

The practice only became widely known in the United States after it was disclosed that the CIA had been subjecting suspected terrorists to it in the wake of 9/11.  More recently, cinematic depictions of waterboarding in the award-winning film Zero Dark Thirty and questions about it at the Senate confirmation hearing for incoming CIA chief John Brennan have sparked debate.  Water torture, however, has a surprisingly long history, dating back to at least the fourteenth century.   It has been a U.S. military staple since the beginning of the twentieth century, when it was employed by Americans fighting an independence movement in the Philippines.   American troops would continue to use the brutal tactic in the decades to come—and during the country’s repeated wars in Asia, they would be victims of it, too. 

Water Torture in Vietnam

Advertisement

Square, Site wide
For more than a decade, I’ve investigated atrocities committed during the Vietnam War.  In that time, I’ve come to know people who employed water torture and people who were brutalized by it.  Americans and their South Vietnamese allies regularly used it on enemy prisoners and civilian detainees in an effort to gain intelligence or simply punish them.  A picture of the practice even landed on the front page of the Washington Post on January 21, 1968, but mostly it went on in secret.

Long-hidden military documents help to fill in the picture.  “I held the suspect down, placed a cloth over his face, and then poured water over the cloth, thus forcing water into his mouth,” Staff Sergeant David Carmon explained in testimony to Army criminal investigators in December 1970.  According to their synopsis, he admitted to using both electrical torture and water torture in interrogating a detainee who died not long after. According to summaries of eyewitness statements by members of Carmon’s unit, the prisoner, identified as Nguyen Cong, had been “beat and kicked,” lost consciousness, and suffered convulsions.  A doctor who examined Nguyen, however, claimed there was nothing wrong with him.  Carmon and another member of his military intelligence team then “slapped the Vietnamese and poured water on his face from a five-gallon can,” according to a summary of his testimony.  An official report from May 1971 states that Nguyen Cong passed out “and was carried to the confinement cage where he was later found dead.”

Years later, Carmon told me by email that the abuse of prisoners in Vietnam was extensive and encouraged by superiors.  “Nothing was sanctioned,” he wrote, “but nothing was off-limits short of seriously injuring a prisoner.”

It turns out that Vietnamese prisoners weren’t the only ones subjected to water torture in Vietnam.  U.S. military personnel serving there were victims, too.  Documents I came across in the U.S. National Archives offer a glimpse of a horrifying history that few Americans know anything about.

“I had a ‘water job’ done on me,” one former American prisoner told a military investigator, according to a 1969 Army report.  “I was handcuffed and taken to the shower… They held my head under the shower for about two minutes and when I’d pull back to breath, they beat me on the chest and stomach.  This lasted for about 10 minutes, during which I was knocked to the floor twice.  When I begged for them to stop, they did.”

Another said that his cellmate had rolled their cigarette butts together to fashion a full cigarette.  When the guards discovered the “contraband,” they grabbed him and hauled him to the showers.  “Three of the guards held me and the other one held my face under the shower,” he testified.  “This lasted quite a while and I thought I was going to drown.”  Afterward, he said, the same thing was done to his cellmate who, upon returning, admitted that “he confessed” as a result of the torture.


New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

 
Right 1, Site wide - BlogAds Premium
 
Right 2, Site wide - Blogads
 
Join the Liberal Blog Advertising Network
 
 
 
Right Skyscraper, Site Wide
 
Join the Liberal Blog Advertising Network
 

A Progressive Journal of News and Opinion   Publisher, Zuade Kaufman   Editor, Robert Scheer
© 2014 Truthdig, LLC. All rights reserved.

Like Truthdig on Facebook