Sunday, November 19, 2006

On torture 2

I've touched on the torture issue before, in general terms and of how wrong and useless it is for the purpose of information-gathering. Well last night, after an email exchange with a fellow blogger and one of the Brain's best friends, I got to thinking about it after reading through the links sent to me. I thought about it all night (thanks, pal), though I thought those dreams were a thing of the past. (I'm going to keep our friend's identity vague, National Security Secrets Directives are involved) I, on the other hand, don't give a fuck anymore and if they got a problem they can take their best shot. Today, I'm going to talk about torture and how it works in the real world, as opposed to what all the talking heads and Rethug assholes say about it. That said, we can move on.

Link #1: Excerpts of an interview with Edwin Meese (former AG under Reagan). Meese is discussing the concept of waterboarding as torture.

Let's move to the Geneva Conventions. A lot of people are concerned that terrorism suspects don't have any kind of habeas corpus.
In order to be covered by the Geneva Convention, you have to fulfill certain requirements. . . . So there are a number of criteria in the Geneva Convention that are not met by everyone on the battlefield. Then there's another category of people going back to the Revolutionary War-people who were in those days called spies. If they were not in uniform, they were subject to being summarily executed.

You mean they were executed without even a military tribunal?
I think there were some. Also, a "tribunal" could be a military commander ordering the hanging. I think that's what happened to some of them.

You're advocating summary execution.
Well, yeah, that happens in the military. Illegal combatants are not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions.

Um, no. There is no such thing as an 'illegal combatant' on the battlefield. You're either my friend or enemy. If you're the latter, I'm gonna try to kill you. Even the Rosenbergs were given a trial. And I have a pretty good feeling that no spies were summarily executed (without trial) in our nation's history. If you disagree, you'd better be armed with proof.

As many of you know, my mother was a nurse in the German Army during WW2. She was captured by the Americans and held as a POW for eighteen months. She always said the American soldiers treated her, and her fellow nurses, with the utmost respect. They also treated the German soldiers with respect as long as they followed the rules. No, we do not have a history of torture.

They then go on to ask Meese about waterboarding and he's as evasive as the rest of them when it comes to calling it torture.

It seems like some of these techniques, like waterboarding, are a long way from humane.
Well, again, I have a great deal of confidence that the administration would not engage in torture.

Would you call that torture?
I don't know. I don't know about waterboarding.

It's putting a wet rag over someone's mouth and making them think that they're going to drown.
Yeah, I don't know. As I said, I don't know enough about it to give a firm determination.

That doesn't necessarily sound like torture to you?
I don't know whether they're doing that.

And if they are?
I don't know, because I don't know enough about it.

I'm asking, if that is what they're doing, does that sound like torture?
Well, I'd have to find out how long they do it and whether it does create the impression of drowning. I've never heard of this using a washcloth in their mouth before.

But he sure knows about summary executions. Waterboarding is torture, period. Putting people you have in confinement in fear for their lives is mental abuse at the least. I gather if you're on the receiving end, 'abuse' would be considered a benign term. Let me explain, we did not use techniques like this until this bunch came to power. Don't get me wrong, we're not chiorboys, but this is the first time techniques like this were offcially sanctioned from on high.

Which brings us to Link #2: An interview with an Air Force weenie (like myself) about the survival school at Fairchild AFB where most Air Force combat troops go to learn how to live on their own in the wilderness and how to evade and, if not so lucky, deal with capture (I have also been through the course, 1980, and can vouch for what's written).

I served in the Air Force from 1982 to 1988. I was an airborne linguist and, as such, was required to go through survival school at Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane. This was a school that officers and enlisted men alike were required to attend...anyone who might end up in a hostile situation or behind enemy lines--or a POW. That was in January of 1984. Part of survival school was training in interrogation resistance and how to handle oneself in the event of capture by enemy forces.

What does that have to do with Meese's remarks, you might ask? Simply this: Our trainers were careful to instruct us on the Geneva Conventions and which interrogation techniques were covered and which were illegal. I have a very clear memory of what they said about waterboarding. As I recall, water boarding was classified as torture and was a violation of the Geneva Conventions. They told us about the technique for the simple reason that the North Vietnamese used it on American Forces. They wanted us to know about that technique in case we were ever captured by "scumbags who didn't respect the Geneva Conventions." There were no demonstrations; it was considered too traumatic. [my ems]


And believe me, if the Air Force refused to allow their people to experience it, it was bad. Once I was strung up with my arms behind my back, wrists tied togther, pulled up behind me with a rope tied to the cieling, off balance so I was on tip toe. It was only 5 minutes (it felt like an hour) but I swore my shoulders were going to dislocate. (Let that be a lesson to you kids who are thinking of enlisting: Don't volunteer for anything!) However, a Squid related his experience with waterboarding to the Air Force weenie.


My cousin, who was a diver for the Navy, also went through similar training at the same time I did, but in a difference school. We both wen't through survival training at the same time, and we met up on leave in Montana in February of 84 before I went off to my permanent duty station in Greece and he went to Hawaii. He told me they actually put them through the experience for a very short period of time (less than a minute each) so they could see how psychologically disturbing it was.

The procedure as he described it was as follows: You are strapped to a board or plank that is set at an incline angle so that your head is approximately a foot below the level of your feet. A wet cloth is placed over your face so that it covers your eyes, nose and mouth. Then water is dripped steadily onto the cloth over your nose and mouth.

It doesn't sound that bad in the abstract, does it? According to my cousin, it was a terrifying experience. And like me, he was taught that this practice was clearly torture and a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Anyone who went through Survival School at the same time I did, in the mid-80's, would have been taught about water boarding and would also have been taught that it was a form of Torture. For the mouthpieces of the current administration to now pretend that waterboarding is somehow acceptable--or even somehow borderline--is a deliberate and methodical deception. I can't speak knowledgably about the interrogation resistance training of the US Military for the last 15 years, but if you were in the service in the 80's and you had any chance of being in a combat risk situation, you went through this training. And every last one of us who has completed this training knows that waterboarding is torture, pure and simple. [my em]


The institutional sanctioning of torture puts us in the same league as Soviet Russia, the Khmer Rouge, Nazi Germany, Kim's Korea, Amin's Uganda, and Mao's China. Neocon America is not the nation I put my ass on the line for, not the nation I pledged my life to defend, and not the nation whose secrets I pledged to keep. Now for personal experience, because torture takes a toll on the people who are charged with meting it out as well, unless they are psychopaths or sociopaths.

In a combat situation, I have done things that could be qualified as abuse and torture. In order to protect my mates and achieve success in the mission, I was prepared to do anything to gather information I needed. Example: My intel is shaky and I'm not sure of the size of a guard force protecting an enemy installation that we're charged with destroying. What do I do? I grab a perimeter guard and demand to know the troop strength. He tells me to go fuck myself. I take out my knife and either remove a finger or dig an eye out of his head, or both depending on his stubbornness and pain threshold. I ask the question again and get an accurate reply. Needless to say, his usefulness to me is over and he becomes just another casualty of war. I have no qualms about this because it's happening on the battlefield and war is horrible (there is no glory in war). The only consequences I have to deal with is what goes on in my own head (I don't wish that on anybody). I've been sentenced to that prison for the past 20 years.

Now, after combat is over and I have prisoners, the scenario changes. Case in point - Grenada 1983. We took about a hundred Cuban soldiers prisoner when we took the airport in Fort Georges. They were in our custody for about 72 hours until the appropriate authorities could take them off our hands. After hostilities were over and they realized they weren't going to be executed, the macho Latino came out and a lot of them got lippy. It got to the point that you just wanted to grab the loudmouths and kick the crap out of them. We talked about it because we were worried they might foment an uprising, and yes we even considered killing the lot of them. My CO took us aside and said this: "The Geneva Conventions apply here, boys. If you abuse one of them, I'll shoot you myself." He wouldn't even let us threaten them.

I know it's a fine line I'm walking and I hope most of you get it. Once an enemy is reduced from 'combatant' to 'prisoner', the rules change. When an enemy is your prisoner, you are responsible for his well-being. He can't harm you, he can't kill your people, he is impotent and depends on your good graces to remain alive. Regardless of the Geneva Conventions, it's just a basic fact of humanity that you don't abuse those who are incapable of defending themselves.

Americans don't torture. Correction, torture should not be sanctioned by our government. Yes, shit happens on the battlefield, but when an enemy is disarmed and captured, we have a moral imperative to show our humanity toward our fellow man, not only for humanity's sake but for the protection of our own troops who might find themselves in a similar situation. Just because 'they' do it, doesn't mean we should. We are better (supposedly) than 'they' are, and only these chickenhawk assholes who are running the show want to lower ourselves to 'their' level.

Any more former or current GIs who'd like to add to this? As my Air Force brother says:

I'm a little baffled that I haven't seen any other ex-service people speaking up about it.

Well, I am because it disgusts me.


Brother Lurch picks up the ball.

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