The Garret Tree
Saturday, September 30, 2006
  Bush likes to "string them by up the thumbs," new book says

U.S. President George Bush has always said he doesn't approve of torture but of course it's dependent on how one defines torture or "interrogation methods."

Now, if the quote is accurate, comes word that perhaps Bush does approve--and not only for terrorists but leakers as well.

I found the quote in Saturday's Globe and Mail in Neil Reynold's review of Eddie Goldenberg's just published inside Ottawa book, The Way it Works.
(Reviews and other copy usually available for about two weeks on the Globe site after posting).

(For those readers of this blog outside Canada, Goldenberg was the key political advisor to former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Not exactly Karl Rove, but you get the idea).

In the review, Reynolds says:

Goldenberg is most personally engaged...when he describes Chrétien's post-9/11 sessions with U.S. President George W. Bush, understanding that his boss's decision to decline a role in Iraq -- whether ultimately right or ultimately wrong -- would define Chrétien's foreign-policy legacy. He is as candid here, portraying the "West Texan," as he is elsewhere reserved. "If I catch anyone who leaks in my government," Bush tells Chrétien in March, 2002, "I would like to string them up by the thumbs -- the same way we do with prisoners in Guantanamo."

Order The Way it Works from

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  On liars

In Robert Heinlein's 1957 novel Citizen of the Galaxy, a story that's been one of my favourites since I was a kid, the father figure, Baslim the Cripple, is trying to encourage his adopted son Thorby to live an honest life. It's speculative fiction, of course, and Baslim, an intelligence agent, is masquerading as a beggar in the capital of the Nine Worlds, to find out about the slave trade. Baslim was able to buy Thorby in a slave auction and rescue him from that life, but, of course, since Baslim is a beggar, that means Thorby becomes what today we would call a street kid. And so he falls into the company of thieves and liars.

Baslim then tells Thorby

Once a man gets a reputation as a liar, he might as well be struck dumb, for people do not listen to the wind.
I wish what Baslim said was true, if it did, it could apply to politicians. But, even if it did, the spindoctors would have giant fans to redirect the wind.

But ordinary people don't have spindoctors. And if a friend or even an acquintance lies, it is like the wind. It passes by.

The irony, of course,is that the hero, Baslim, was a liar himself. He was an intelligence agent, in deep cover, and lying is part of the job description.

Just a thought on a Saturday night.

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Saturday, September 23, 2006
  The torture agreement and the missing amendment

Why do I care so much about the Geneva Conventions? Why I am constantly astounded at how the United States under the Bush administration has done everything it can to ignore those Conventions?

I can't remember, exactly, the first time I heard the term "Geneva Convention." It wasn't in university or even high school.

I know it was at the dinner table, probably before I entered Grade One, when I fought with my father over food. He would scream at a picky five-year-old to eat his food and then begin talking about the Geneva Convention.

Japan decided to ignore that first 1929 Geneva Convention. Because of that my father, a 21-year-old, white middle class Brit became a slave for three years. So did thousands of other Allied military personnel during the Second World War, who were covered by the Geneva Convention that Japan ignored. Japan also turned hundreds of thousands of civilians in the nations they occupied, Chinese, Korean, Malayan, Tamil, Filipino and Vietnamese into slaves--and they weren't covered by the 1929 Convention.

When my father was liberated from the Changi Jail prisoner of war camp in Singapore in 1945, he weighed just 83 pounds. Like most former prisoners he was obsessed with food, which made our dinner table a battleground from the time I was a toddler to when I finally left home to go university.

He suffered from untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder his entire life. There was little or no PTSD treatment for surviving FEPOWS (Far East Prisoners of War) in Allied nations until after it became an issue with Vietnam veterans. Untreated PTSD meant that he had nightmares, flashbacks, survivors' guilt and all that other baggage. He had physical ailments resulting from starvation and diseases such as berri-berri ( a vitamin B defiency) malaria, cholera and "jungle ulcers."

Unfortunately, the history of the Far East Prisoners of War has never been a priority in most of the Allied countries from the Second World War.

But one has to ask that in nation like the United States, where African American slavery has been a key issue for centuries, why so few in the United States know that thousands of mostly white Americans were slaves during the Second World War? Many have heard of the infamous Bataan Death March but few know that many of the survivors were then herded in their hundreds into "hell ships" in conditions almost equaling the infamous Middle Passage to become slave labourers in Korea and Japan. (I do have to point out, of course, that this covered a period of just three years, from 1942 to 1945, not the generations that affected African American slavery).

When the Bush administration announced, shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001, that they would not apply the Geneva Convention to prisoners "captured on the battlefield," I was, unfortunately, not surprised, but for me it was the first hint that the war resulting from the attacks on the United States was going to go wrong and go wrong quickly.

As I did my Masters degree in the law and history and then wrote the drafts of The Sonkrai Tribunal, and I read the documents that were either leaked or officially released, one thing became clear. The conservative civilian lawyers who drafted the policy had absolutely no knowledge of history. They read precedent and legal arguments, they did not read any of the reasons that conventions were negotiated.

That same historic perspective is missing in the current agreement on the proposed American law on the implementation of the Geneva Convention. The administration made hasty decisions after September 11 and recently faced the fact the United States Supreme Court had ruled that the country had to follow the Geneva Conventions. Faced with a revolt among even some conservative Republicans in Congress, but apparently wanting something that might pass before the November mid-term elections, the result is the agreement, which many analysts appear to be saying is vague enough that it may still allow torture, while others say it won't. That means the whole debate will once again be before the courts and before the courts for years.

Perhaps it would be best to let the proposed bill wait until the next session of the United States Congress, to give cooler heads a chance to prevail. Perhaps so that lawyers and politicians can read a little history and write laws that don't only handle the threats faced from militants of any kind in 2006, but a law that will stand the test of time.

What's missing?

The whole agreement is so full of sections and subsections that it is actually hard to give the right number, but in the last page, there is a definition of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and there it says.

1) IN GENERAL. —No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
The term cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment’ in this subsection shall mean the cruel, unusual, and inhumane treatment or punishment prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, as defined in the United States Reservations, Declarations and Understandings to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment done at New York, December 10, 1984.

The discussion of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, going back to the fall of 2001 and continuing to today has been too narrow, concentrating just on the interrogation and holding of prisoners suspected of terrorist acts. And that means, to use the old cliche, throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

As I point out in The Sonkrai Tribunal, almost every Allied war crimes trial concerning prisoners of war of the Japanese after the Second World War charged them with keeping POWs in inhuman conditions and subjecting them to inhuman treatment. That ranged much farther than just the horrors of an interrogation room, but included inadequate shelter or even no shelter and exposure to the elements, inadequate food that amounted to starvation, including causing defiency diseases such as berri berri, exposure to diseases caused by an unsanitary environment such as cholera, typhoid, typhus and forced labour amounting to slavery.

I am not suggesting that anyone in the West would keep an alleged terrorist as a slave. I am emphasizing the Geneva Conventions are supposed to protect both sides in a conflict, and thus, if applied, protect our soldiers and civilians. If our soldiers or civilians are subjected to such horrors in the future, whether it is torture in an interrogation room or slavery, then there would be legal means to handle that. That's what "Western values" should stand for.

So, in my view, while that phrase on the Fifth (due process), Eighth (cruel and unusual punishment) Fourteenth (due process and equal protection) Amendments to the American constitution is needed in that agreement, it almost sounds like a script writers' boiler plate from an episode of Law and Order.

What is missing and what the long term perspective requires is the famous Thirteenth Amendment.

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

If someone says the Geneva Convention should not apply in the twenty-first century, ask them, "So that means you're in favour of slavery?"

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Friday, September 22, 2006
  When a Christian is tortured

Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish blog continues its excellent coverage of the torture issue in the United States. In one post, "Christians for Torture" on September 21, 2006, Sullivan points to the U.S based Traditional Values Coalition and its news release on September 18, threatening to hold U.S. legislators accountable if they actually do the right thing (as they may or may not be doing with the recent compromise with the White House) and refuse to allow the Bush administration to get around the Geneva Convention.

Here is an excerpt from the news release from the TVC

TVC Chairman Rev. Louis P. Sheldon said American military and intelligence experts are hampered by a vague "outrages upon personal dignity" statement in Article Three of the Geneva Convention of 1950.

"We need to clarify this policy for treating detainees," said Rev. Sheldon. "As it stands right now, the military and intelligence experts interrogating these terrorists are in much greater danger than the terrorists. Civil suits against our military personnel are tying their hands as they try to get vital information which will save the lives of our young military people and the innocent."

"Our rules for interrogation need to catch-up with this awful new form of war that is being fought against all of us and the us and the free world. The post-World War II standards do not apply to this new war."

Let us go back to why these "postWorld War II standards" were made international law in the first place. And again, as I have earlier in this blog, I will use the Double Tenth case in Singapore as the example.

One of the civilian internees accused by the Japanese of taking part in the sabotage mission on Singapore harbour in 1943 was the Right Reverend John Leonard Wilson, Lord Archbishop of Singapore. (The Anglican bishop, Episcopalian in the United States). As I have mentioned in earlier posts [links below] the raid was actually carried out by Australian and British commandos and the civilians interned in Singapore's Changi Jail knew nothing about it. One of the tortures the Japanese use in the Double Tenth case was waterboarding. The aim was "actionable intelligence" on who blew up the ships in Singapore harbour, the method was torture and the result was a series of confessions by innocent civilians who knew nothing about the raid whatsoever.

While Bishop Wilson was not subject to "the water treatment," I am going to quote from the affidavit he swore for the Double Tenth trial. (warning this part may disturb some readers)

On arrival at Japanese Military Police Headquarters on 17th October 1943, I was placed in a cell with approximately fifteen others under conditions set out in the report [a joint report on prison conditions submitted by internees after the war-RR]. On the same night I was taken to another room for investigation and received beatings on the shoulder with a rope. On the following day (18th October) I was made to kneel with a sharp-edged piece of metal behind my knees. My hands were tied behind my back and I was roped under the knee-hole of a desk in a very painful position. Japanese soldiers stamped upon my thighs and twisted the metal behind my knees so that it cut into the flesh. I remained in this position for nine to ten hours, sometimes being interrogated, other times being left under two Japanese guards who kicked me back into position whenenver I moved to try and get release. I was then carried back to my cell, my legs being too weak to support me.

On the following day (19th October) I was again carried upstairs and tied face downwards on a table and flogged with ropes, receiving more than 200 strokes from six guards and the chief investigator, working in relays. I was carried back to the cell and remained semi-conscious for three days and unable to stand for me than three weeks....

After this long investigations took place with threats of torture and death, but no more torture took place until February 1944 and then only for half an hour. I received medical attention and dressing for wounds for more than two months. This was given by the Japanese doctor and dressed at the Military Headquarters....

I also saw many cases of brutality by the Japanese guards inflicted upon their prisoners. In one particular case, which occurred about the beginning of November 1943, I saw Dr. Stanley, who was in the cell next to mine, at the Japanese military police headquarters being repeatedly taken to and returned from the investigation room. When he was away I could hear his voice crying out in agony denying the charges made against him. Sometimes he was carried on a chair and sometimes on a stretcher but the torture continued over a period of at least two weeks. One day he returned semiconscious. A Japanese doctor was called and he was taken away on a stretcher and never returned to the cell. I was told by a Japanese interpreter that he had died.... His death was undoubtedly due to the maltreatment he received. I saw people getting thinner and thinner as a result of their ordeal and lack of food and some of them were returned to Sime Road Camp [another prison camp in Singapore-RR] either dead or dying.

At that time, the 1929 Geneva Convention only covered military personnel who were prisoners of war, and the Japanese disregarded that. It was torture cases like the Double Tenth that led to the post war Geneva Convention that covers civilians, and it is that the Bush administration apparently is trying to find a way around.

Earlier posts on the Double Tenth case

The classified blog that got it right on water torture.

Waterboarding is a war crime

(I am still studying the compromise and what experts are saying. I will post my views soon.)

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Saturday, September 02, 2006
  What if there had been a satellite image of the River Kwai railway?
What if there had been satellites at the end of the Second World War?

From that random thought, I was inspired for a rainy day Labour Day Saturday project.

That idea is only realistic if the war had continued for many years longer and the rockets under development, eventually, as they did almost 20 years later, were able to launch satellites into orbit. (A subject for what science fiction calls an "alternative world" and now that academics have gotten into that form of speculation, "counterfactual history." )

On this Labour Day weekend in Toronto, with what is now tropical depression Ernesto pouring rain down on the city, while I was checking my e-mail, I decided, as my mind wandered, to complete a task that had been low on my to do list for months. Find a satellite image of the area on the Burma Thailand Railway where F Force, the subject of my book, built a section of the railway and road just south of the Burma border.

I did find the image. And then inspired again I decided to see if I could marry that image with a copy of what is likely the only war time extant map of the railway. The result is the picture posted on this blog.

Now a bit of background. As a photo editor, I have been working with Photoshop for more than 10 years. And for the past four or so years, I have used many satellite images from different sources in my job at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. So, while with some luck, I was able to finish this in about a hour, there are years of experience behind the operation.

The satellite image

At CBC, we often use satellite images supplied by the NASA/MODIS project that is based at the Goddard Space Flight Center. These images are most often of hurricanes, typhoons, forest fires, other natural phenonomen and often just gorgeous images. NASA/MODIS did help the CBC recently when the National broadcast from the Northwest Passage, and as part of that I created a photo gallery of satellite images of the area of the National's broadcast.

There were no suitable images in the main NASA/MODIS gallery so I then searched through what NASA/MODIS calls its subsets. The probem was to find an image where there was little cloud cover. And as I found when I went looking, although there many images that show Thailand clear, the mountains that mark the border were often cloud covered. I eventually found one, Pimai subset image, 200605, taken on January 5, 2006.

On this image, the upper valley of the Kwai is perfectly clear, and you can see the route of the river down from the mountains, to the lake created by the Khao Lem reservoir and then the river valley as it flows south. Three Pagoda Pass also stands out, a yellow-brown streak among the green mountains.

The map

I discovered the map during my research on F Force for The Sonkrai Tribunal. It is an air force navigation chart (there are no markings to indicate whether it was Royal Air Force or United States Air Force, both bombed the Burma Thailand Railway). I believe it is the only wartime extant map of the railway because it does show the route but with the disclaimer "alignment approximate." (The better known maps drawn by former POWs were created after the war for war crimes investigation or historical records)

Fun with Photoshop

I had downloaded the satellite image and enlarged it by about 30 per cent using the tools in Photoshop CS2, which is about as far as you can go without losing the integrity of the image.

It was only then that I was inspired to see if I could match it with the image of the map. I used a small section of the map I created as a reference for the F Force area. Checking image size of both in Photoshop I saw that they were approximately the same size already, I made a small adjustment to the map and luckily it was a perfect match on the first try.

I then spent some time trying to opitmize the image for best display. at first the satellite image was the background layer, with the map as the second layer.

The air navigation map was pink and that diminished the greens from the true colour satellite image. So I desaturated the map to a neutral gray.

I then tried an number of experiments with opacity to find the best way of bringing out the information on the map while maintaining the beauty of the satellite image. Eventually I created a duplicate layer for the satellite image, made the map the background layer (dropping the original satellite background layer) and tweaked the opacity on the satellite image.

Finally I made a copy, merged the layers and used curves to create what I hope is the optimum for the images. (I used both RGB curves and then the green curve to enhance the greens a bit)

Both the original NASA image and the map cover a much larger area, but at this point I have no plans to go further and create a second image.

But the result shows, allowing for the "alignment approximate" and the fact the Khao Lem dam and reservoir has drowned much of the route, how a satellite image of the Burma Thailand Railway might have looked.

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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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    A River Kwai Story
    A River Kwai Story
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