May 21, 2013
‘I Begged for Them to Stop’
Posted on Feb 26, 2013
By Nick Turse, TomDispatch
At least that 1969 report noted that water torture “was administered without authority” to those American prisoners. The current situation has been radically different. In recent years, it wasn’t merely low-level brutalizers and their immediate superiors who sanctioned and approved torture techniques, but senior White House officials, including National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney. From George W. Bush’s own memoir, we know that the previous president gave an enthusiastic order (“Damn right!”) to subject other human beings to water torture, just as we know that President Obama has made certain no one in the government involved in ordering or facilitating such acts would ever answer for any of them.
In 1901, an American officer was sentenced to 10 years at hard labor for waterboarding a Filipino prisoner. By the late 1940s, the centuries-old practice was so reviled that significant prison time or even death lay in store for those using it. In the late 1960s, it was still viewed as a cruel and unusual punishment, even if U.S. troops who tortured Vietnamese and American captives weren’t subject to prosecution for it. In the twenty-first century, as water torture moved from Southeast Asian prison showers to the White House, it also morphed into an “enhanced interrogation technique.” Today, the president’s pick to head the CIA refuses even to label waterboarding as “torture.”
What does it say about a society when its morals and ethics on the treatment of captives go into reverse? What are we to make of leaders who authorize, promote, or shield such brutal practices or about citizens who stand by and allow them to happen? What does it mean when torture, already the definition of “cruel,” becomes usual?
Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and a fellow at the Nation Institute. An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. He is the author most recently of the New York Times bestseller Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books). You can watch his recent conversation with Bill Moyers about that book by clicking here. His website is NickTurse.com. You can follow him on Tumblr and on Facebook.
Copyright 2013 Nick Turse
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