The Garret Tree
Monday, November 14, 2005
  Waterboarding is a war crime
Waterboarding is a war crime.

(I put The Garret Tree on hold while I revised the manuscript of The Sonkrai Tribunal. Those edits should be completed in the next couple of days. I am restarting a little earlier than planned because of the editorial in the Wall Street Journal supporting torture, including water boarding. That relates to this blog because the Japanese in Singapore used what they called “the water treatment” and one of the main characters in my book, war crimes investigator, Col. Cyril Wild investigated both the F Force case and the water treatment torture case.)

Updated: Date typo fixed (1943 not 1942)

Today I dipped into Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish and found a link to a Wall Street Journal editorial that dismissed water boarding as a psychological technique.

The Journal claims

As for "torture," it is simply perverse to conflate the amputations and electrocutions Saddam once inflicted at Abu Ghraib with the lesser abuses committed by rogue American soldiers there, much less with any authorized U.S. interrogation techniques. No one has yet come up with any evidence that anyone in the U.S. military or government has officially sanctioned anything close to "torture." The "stress positions" that have been allowed (such as wearing a hood, exposure to heat and cold, and the rarely authorized "waterboarding," which induces a feeling of suffocation) are all psychological techniques designed to break a detainee

Sullivan also points to another blog by Brendan Nyhan where he quotes an earlier WSJ editorial that admitted that water boarding is "pushing the boundary of tolerable behavior."

You can also see Nyhan’s earlier posts on waterboarding here and here

Nyhan faults the main stream media for failing to define water boarding, and notes there are two ways of doing it

either strapping someone to a board and submerging them under water until they think they are about to drown, or placing a wet towel over their face and dripping water into their nose until they think they are about to drown. While both tactics are brutal, the first seems especially horrific, at least to me.

Both the Journal and Nyhan are missing the point when they push the envelope of humanity and split hairs over whether it is torture or simply a form of psychological pressure.

Mark Bowden, whose work I respect, also has this view in the WSJ's The Opinion Journal.

Just as there is no way to draw a clear line between coercion and torture, there is no way to define, a priori, circumstances that justify harsh treatment. Any attempt to codify it unleashes the sadists and leads to widespread abuse. Interrogators who choose coercive methods would, and should, be breaking the rules.
That does not mean that they should always be taken to task. Prosecution and punishment remains an executive decision, and just as there are legal justifications for murder, there are times when coercion is demonstrably the right thing to do.

The bottom line is that when “water treatment” was practiced against our side, it was called a war crime. That was the ruling against the Japanese after the Second World War by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and by the military courts that tried what were called in the Far East, the “B” and ”C” level war criminals.

When the leaders of Japan were found guilty of multiple and horrific war crimes, one of them was the “water treatment.” Those who actually did the “water treatment” – the officers who directed torture (B level) and those who carried it out (C level) were guilty of war crimes. Some were executed.

Here are some excerpts from my chapter on an infamous torture case in Singapore. (Some cuts and edits have been made so it can be within the maximum boundaries of blog length.)

The victims of the “water treatment” were our side, British, Eurasian and Chinese in Singapore.

On Monday September 27, 1943, British and Australian commandos raided Singapore harbour, then occupied by the Japanese and blew up a number of ships.

Japanese intelligence, including the kempeitai, the secret police, had no idea how the ships were attacked.

A few days after the attack what the later trial called “informers of extremely doubtful character” approached the kempeitai in Johore (on the mainland across from Singapore) and told them that ships had been sunk by British soldiers in Johore who had contacts with civilian internees in Changi Jail. The informers told the kempeitai that the internees had a secret transmitter with which they used to contact the British army. The Johore kempeitai passed the information to their counterparts in Singapore.

The man then in charge of the kempeitai in Singapore, Major
Haruzo Sumida, received orders for what was called “Number One Work”—to obtain actionable intelligence and crush any opposition.

Over the next few weeks, 57 European and Eurasian civilians held in Changi were arrested in the kempetai’s "Number One Work." A number of local Chinese were also arrested. All were taken to three different locations in the city and tortured.

Not one of the internees had anything to do with the attack. Although there were secret receiving radios in the jail, there were no two–way radios.

One man was executed. A second after horrific torture, attempted suicide was refused medical treatment and died. Another man died in his cell, the others were returned to the Changi Camp hospital where 13 died as a result of starvation, beating and torture.

Within days of liberation, on Monday September 3, 1945, the surviving civilian internees in Singapore, appointed a "commission of inquiry: into what happened to the former inmates at the hands of the kempeitai. This is how the commission described “the water treatment”

There are two forms of water torture.
In the first, the victim was tied or held down on his back and a cloth placed over his nose and mouth. Waters was then poured on the cloth. Interrogation proceeded and the victim was beaten if he did not reply. As he opened his mouth to breathe or answer questions, water went down his throat until he could hold no more. Sometimes he was then beaten over his distended stomach, sometimes a Japanese jumped or sometimes pressed it with his foot.
In the second,
The victim was tied lengthways on a ladder, face upwards with a rung of the ladder across his throat and his head below the ladder. In this position he was slid head first into to a tub of water and kept there until almost drowned. After being revived, interrogation continued and he would be re-immersed.

Cyril Wild’s investigation torture in Singapore showed that similar water torture was a favourite tactic of the kempeitai:

Wild questioned one of the those accused in the case, Sgt. Major Masuo Makizono.

To Makizono, the most important aim was to discover how and what information was being passed from the civilian internees to the British guerrilla forces.

Turning to the beating and torture, Wild asked: “Why were these cruelties practiced?”

“None of them would say where the transmitter was,” Makizono said. “No information could be gotten from them about the location of British forces.”

He told Wild beating was the most common form of abuse. If the kempeitai was dissatisfied with the answers or if they thought the prisoner was lying, they would use torture.

Makizono denied ever using an iron bar to hit a prisoner, but admitted he used his fist and he had used a bamboo pole on the arms, legs and torso. He pointed to the spots on his own body.

“Did you ever use the water treatment?” Wild asked.

Makizono described how suspects were tied up and laid on the ground. A kempeitai would force open then the prisoners’ mouth, while another poured a bucket of water down the throat.

“Did you block up the nose?” was Wild’s last question.

No, Makizono replied hee preferred to leave the nostrils open so he could pour water into them as well.

Wild noted: “He appeared to take personal pride in describing such methods.”

The case was not just a war crime. It is a lesson in intelligence failure. The torture and imprisonment of dozens of innocent civilians and the inhuman treatment was used because the kempeitai could not conceive that regular force commandos, today’s equivalent of Special Forces, could attack Singapore. So they focused on civilians, civilians who were already imprisoned, civilians who were resisting their captors—as all prisoners do—but civilians who were not saboteurs or terrorists.

The man who authorized those techniques at the Singapore YMCA, Lt. Col. Sumida, was sentenced to hang. Sumida, in his statement during the trial said, “I felt the state of peace and order and this serious incident were related and that a thorough measure should be taken to prevent the recurrence of such serious incidents.”

Six other members of the kempeitai plus an interpreter were sentenced to hang. Three were sentenced to life, including one interpreter called “the fat American” (he was originally from California) One received 15 years, and one kempeitai and one interpreter eight.

This form of torture was not limited to Singapore. The judgment of the Tokyo war crimes trial said “the water treatment was commonly applied…there is evidence that this torture was used in the following places: (spelling in the original)
China, at Shanghai, Peiping and Nanking
French IndoChina, at Hanoi and Saigon
Malaya, a Singapore
Burma, at Kyaikto
Thailand, at Chumporn
Andaman Islands, at Port Blair
Borneo, at Jesselton
Sumatra, at Madan, Tadjong Keareng and Palembang
Java, at Batavia, Badung, Soerabaja and Buitonzorg
Celebes, at Makeskar
Portuguese Timor, at Orzu and Dilli
Philippines, at Manila, Nichols Field, Palo Beach and Dumquete
Formosa, at Camp Haito
Japan, at Tokyo"

It’s worth noting that the Tokyo tribunal listed that the “water treatment” used by the Japanese in four locations in the Philippines, which at that period was an American colony and under US jurisdiction and so in that case, Americans were victims of “inhuman treatment.”

The Wall Street Journal postulates:

Democratic Senators Ted Kennedy and Richard Durbin have gotten a lot of media mileage posturing over alleged "torture." But they should be asked unequivocally whether they'd rule out techniques such as "waterboarding" if there was good reason to believe it might prevent a mass-casualty attack.

If the Singapore and other cases throughout history are any guide, it is more likely that some innocent person or marginal suspect would do what torture most often does, make up a story to please the torturer and end the torment. All those civilians in the Singapore confessed to sabotage, sabotage, that in reality, they knew absolutely nothing about.

(The Sonkrai Tribunal has been bought by Allen and Unwin in Australia for publicaiton in 2006. US, Canadian and UK rights still available)

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I write in a renovated garret in my house in a part of Toronto, Canada, called "The Pocket." The blog is named for a tree can be seen outside the window of my garret.

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Name: Robin Rowland
Location: Toronto, Canada

I'm a Toronto-based writer, photographer, web producer, television producer, journalist and teacher. I'm author of five books, the latest A River Kwai Story: The Sonkrai Tribunal. The Garret tree is my blog on the writing life including my progress on my next book (which will be announced here some time in the coming months) My second blog, the Wampo, Nieke and Sonkrai follows the slow progress of my freelanced model railway based on my research on the Burma Thailand Railway (which is why it isn't updated that often) The Creative Guide to Research, based on my book published in 2000 is basically an archive of news, information and hints for both the online and the shoe-leather" researcher. (Google has taken over everything but there are still good hints there)

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