Thursday, April 24, 2008

Water poured down a restrained man's throat is water forced down the throat

Torture apologists deserve no mincing of words. They are war criminals.

There is nothing to distinguish between the torture they authorized and the torture that we have punished and criticized in the past. As Marty Lederman observes, John Ashcroft's latest attempt to make this distinction is as strained as the legal reasoning the Bush Justice Department engaged in to justify torture in the first place:
OK, but what about the very well-known fact that the "water treatment" was used by the Spanish Inquisition; by U.S. forces in the Philippines at the turn of the 20th Century; and by the Japanese in World War II -- and that in each case it was universally condemned as unlawful torture? Ashcroft's interlocutor the other day, one "Elsinora" at Knox College, asked him whether he was familiar with the judgment at the Tokyo Tribunal against Yukio Asano for having employed the "water treatment" in this manner, against American troops for purposes of obtaining intelligence information: "The victim was bound or otherwise secured in a prone position; and water was forced through his mouth and nostrils into his lungs and stomach." The allies sentenced Asano to fifteen years hard labor for this conduct. Here's the remarkable exchange between Elsinora and Ashcroft on the Asano precedent:
Elsinora: Since Yukio Asano was trying to get information to help defend his country--exactly what you, Mr. Ashcroft, say is acceptible for Americans to do--do you believe that his sentence was unjust?

ASHCROFT: Now, listen here. You're comparing apples and oranges, apples and oranges. We don't do anything like what you described.

Elsinora: I'm sorry, I was under the impression that we still use the method of putting a cloth over someone's face and pouring water down their throat...

ASHCROFT: "Pouring"! "Pouring"! Did you hear what she said?: "Putting a cloth over someone's face and pouring water on them."

That's not what you said before! Read that again, what you said before [about the Asano case]!

Elsinora: "The victim was bound or otherwise secured in a prone position; and water was forced through his mouth and nostrils into his lungs and stomach."

ASHCROFT: You hear that? You hear it? "Forced"! If you can't tell the difference between forcing and pouring...Does this college have an anatomy class? If you can't tell the difference between forcing and pouring...
If you can find any daylight between the practices, you are probably a Bush Administration official.

Update:

A Daily Kos diarist has further excerpts from Ashcroft's question and answer session. As Digby points out, it is notable that Ashcroft's arguments about the UN Convention Against Torture and alleged Senate "reservations" (that "it defines torture as something that leaves lasting scars or physical damage") are false. Here are the actual reservations:
(1) (a) That with reference to article 1, the United States understands that, in order to constitute torture, an act must be specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering and that mental pain or suffering refers to prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from (1) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering; (2) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality; (3) the threat of imminent death; or (4) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality.
Who honestly wants to argue that controlled drowning, a technique that causes even the hardest operators to cry uncle in mere seconds--and which can and does actually kill people--does not meet this definition?

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