What do the Nazi Gestapo, the South African police during Apartheid,
the Japanese military during World War II, Spanish "Grand
Inquisitor" Tomas de Torquemada, William Kristol,
Charles Krauthammer, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Senator Joe Lieberman, and
Marc Levin have in common? The answer is that they were/are all practitioners
of or apologists for forms of water torture that have long been illegal under
U.S. and international law. (The U.S. executed Japanese soldiers during World
War II for the war crime of water torture). In the U.S. in recent years it
has been called "water boarding."
These parallels were brought to mind recently while re-reading F.A.
Hayek’s classic, The Road to Serfdom. In
Chapter 10, entitled "Why the Worst Get to the Top," Hayek wrote
that in a totalitarian state (or one that is becoming more so), "to be a
useful assistant in the running of a totalitarian state, it is not enough
that a man should be prepared to accept specious justification of vile deeds;
he must himself be prepared actively to break every moral rule he has ever
known . . ." Moreover, he "must be completely unprincipled and
literally capable of everything." Those who aspire to "leading
positions" in "the totalitarian machine," wrote Hayek, will
come to understand that "there will be special opportunities for the
ruthless and unscrupulous" where one can prosper by practicing
"cruelty and intimidation, deliberate deception and spying . . ."
Hayek was referring to the fascist and socialist regimes of the 1940s, but
his words also seem increasingly descriptive of contemporary American
government with its taser-armed rogue police thugs,
its TSA gropers and perverts, its constant bombardment of the public with
lies about just about everything, and its spy cameras on street corners, in
satellites, drones, warrantless wiretaps, internet spying, and worse.
The Spanish "Water Cure"
Water torture was a totalitarian tool used by the Spanish "Grand
Inquisitor" Tomas de Torquemada during the fifteenth-century Spanish
Inquisition. The accused were placed naked on a table with their feet
elevated, hands and legs bound, and their nose blocked. Water was poured into
his or her mouth which was then stuffed with a rag so that the water could
not be spit out. It would create the sensation of drowning and in some cases
the stomach would feel as though it would burst – or it would
burst, killing the victim.
The purpose of what the Spaniards called "the water cure"
was to torture people who had converted from Judaism to Catholicism but were
suspected of secretly practicing their original religion. (For example, the
absence of smoke from chimneys on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath, was
considered to be a strong indication that the accused was a Jew since Judaism
forbade performing labor such as lighting chimney fires on the Sabbath).
Several thousand Jews were eventually convicted and executed after enduring
"the water cure." The sentence for "heresy" was burning
at the stake. This was one of the worst examples in history of the evils of
the non-separation of church and state.
The American "Water
The U.S. military has employed a version of Torquemada’s
"water cure" almost from the beginning of the republic. It was used
extensively by the Lincoln administration on Northern civilians
during the War to Prevent Southern Independence according to historian and
Lincoln cultist Mark Neely, Jr. in his book, Fate of Liberty.
Article 3, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution defines treason as "only
levying war upon the States . . ." which of course is exactly what
Lincoln’s invasion of the Southern states was. But Lincoln took it upon
himself to personally redefine treason as being any criticism of himself, his
policies, or the Republican Party. Consequently, hundreds of newspapers in
the North were shut down and tens of thousands of Northern civilians were
imprisoned without due process (Habeas Corpus having been illegally
suspended) under the guise of battling "treason." Lincoln himself
even once announced that a man who merely remains silent while his
administration’s policies were being discussed was being traitorous.
All of the totalitarian communist governments of the twentieth century
espoused the same notion and enforced it vigorously.
Neely writes of how Northern state citizens suspected of not being
fully supportive of the Lincoln regime were frequently dragged into a gulag
without due process and tortured with hoses shoved down their throats until
their stomachs sometimes burst. The practice came to light when a British
citizen visiting the U.S. was mistakenly arrested, imprisoned, and tortured.
British envoy to the U.S., Lord Lyons, learned of it and protested loudly. If
it were not for Lord Lyons, the American public might never have learned of
the use of "the water cure" by the U.S. Army. Even though such
barbaric practices were illegal under U.S. law, Neely wrote of how the
Lincoln administration did nothing more than make note of Lord Lyons’
protest and then continued on with the practice for the duration of the war.
The Spanish "water cure" was also used extensively during
the U.S. military’s next Big Adventure, the Spanish-American War. As
described by Gregg Jones in Honor in the Dust: Theodore
Roosevelt, War in the Philippines, and the Rise and Fall of America’s
Imperial Dream (p. 209), tactics against Filipino villagers
. . . burning of houses or entire villages,
torture of witnesses or suspects, and, in some cases, summary execution of
suspected guerrillas. Gordon’s Scouts, an elite 18th Infantry mounted
outfit, was widely feared . . . for its harsh tactics. Its favorite
interrogation technique was the ‘water cure,’ in which a victim
was held down, his mouth pried open with a piece of bamboo or a rifle barrel,
and dirty or salty water poured down his throat until the stomach swelled to
the bursting point – a painful procedure that typically produced quick
Jones further describes the torture of the mayor of a small village
who, when asked if he knew where the leader of the rebels was, said that he
had no idea. A Captain Glenn, who had kicked Catholic nuns out of their
convent and made it into his headquarters, ordered "water detail"
for the mayor. As Jones writes (p. 213), the mayor was:
Thrown to the floor beneath a water tank, his mouth forced open and
the spigot turned. As water gushed down the Filipino’s throat and
filled his stomach, an interpreter stood over him, ordering . . . Answer!
Answer! When [the mayor] was filled with water, [soldiers] pounded his stomach
with their fists. Water spurted from the man’s nose and mouth, and the
process began anew.
The mayor eventually talked, but the American soldiers didn’t
believe what he told them, so that a second round of "the water
cure" was ordered. His stomach was filled with water again, and a
"syringe was placed in his nose and more water forced into him. When
that also failed to yield the desired answer . . . salt was thrown into the
water can . . ."
Frustrated by their lack of success with the "water cure,"
the American military officer in charge then "ordered the town burned.
Torches were lit and, as terrified families fled their houses with the few
possessions they could carry, the American soldiers fanned out" to start
more fires. "By midnight, fewer than twenty of the five hundred
structures in [the town] remained standing." And Theodore Roosevelt called the Filipinos
General Sherman would have been proud, since it sounds so much like
his bombardment and burning of Atlanta in 1864 after the Confederate
Army had evacuated that city. Earlier in the war, Sherman had ordered the
burning of the entire town of Randolph, Tennessee, in frustration over his
failure to apprehend rebel sharpshooters along the Mississippi River.
As Hayek said, totalitarian societies provide ample
"leadership" (and money-making) opportunities for those who are
willing to abandon all morals and brutalize or even murder for the sake of
the regime. There are also lucrative "leadership" opportunities for
academic or journalistic apologists for such regimes. Which brings us to
today’s champions of the U.S. military’s use of "the water
cure." First we have Senator Joe Lieberman who has declared that
"water boarding is not torture." (Senator John McCain, who was
extensively tortured for years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, has
unequivocally stated that it is indeed torture).
William Kristol once suggested that the
military practitioners of water boarding be given the Medal of Freedom.
Writing in Kristol’s magazine, The Weekly
Standard, Michael Goldfarb wrote that "to call this torture . . .
diminishes the very real torture" practiced by "rogue states."
Goldfarb also suggested that this favorite tool of the Nazi Gestapo may
actually "give you a buzz," kind of like having a couple of martinis
before dinner or smoking a joint.
Psychiatrist and television talking head Charles Krauthammer defended
the American "water cure" by making the intellectually
sophisticated argument that "you have to do what you have to do."
The screeching and screaming radio loudmouth Marc Levin once shouted in
defense of water torture on his radio program: "Why in the hell would we
take an effective tool off the table?!"
The answer to this question posed by "The Grate One" was
answered by Jesse Ventura on a television program in which he said
(paraphrasing), "Give me Dick Cheney and water boarding and I will get
him to confess to the Sharon Tate murders." In other words, human nature
suggests that people undergoing such torture will say anything to end their
misery. This is not a complicated or sophisticated point. The public will
never know if any information of any value at all was ever acquired by the
U.S. military’s use of this totalitarian tool, for the government lies
about everything, especially the conduct of the CIA, the administrators of
the twenty-first century version of the Spanish "water cure."