The Garret Tree
Friday, April 24, 2009
  The Japanese waterboarding debate widens
The debate over Japanese waterboarding is growing.

Paul Begla, in the Huffington Post, writes Yes National Review, We did execute the Japanese for waterboarding.

Begala is responding to an assertion by Mark Hemingway of National Review Online that U.S. did not execute the Japanese.

The problem with that debate is that it is apparently based on only one case, that of Yukio Asano, and that debate is based only on the online summary of the trial. Apparently it's too much in this internet age to have a debate on the substance of a matter of national and international importance based on the facts or substantive research, just what you pick up on the web. (And these are older adults, so why are we boomers complaining about kids basing their school work on Wikipedia? We have here role models for Wiki-searching from both sides of the polarized American political spectrum.)

There is the usual American parochialism, that it only counts, apparently, if an American was waterboarded or if the Americans executed war criminals for waterboarding. To many Americans, and almost all American conservatives, not only on the Huffington Post or the National Review Online, but on other blogs, that the British tried the Japanese for waterboarding is of little or no importance.
That's why it's called International Humanitarian Law (A lot of the evidence against the Japanese for torture in the Double Tenth case, which was a British military tribunal, came from American war crimes investigators.)

Finally there's a double anonymous comment on the Huffington Post in response to Begala. From an anonymous poster calling himself The Golden Master, quoting an equally anonymous so-called close assosicate who apparently says:

In the first place, I had studied, written, and; 'published' on the Tokyo War Crimes Trial, but I've never come across information that the Japanese waterboarded their captives, even less that Japanese war criminals were executed for waterboarding. So, Paul Begala has no credibility unless he produces his source(s) for that assertion.

Obviously whomever this person is has never actually checked the index to the published edition of the transcript of the hearing of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Far East, for the "water treatment" is easy to find.

I quoted from the trial in my original post

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"

The online debate was triggered by this "discussion" on CNN's Anderson Cooper.

There is also Andrew Sullivan's response to Hemingway here and to Begala here.


There's a good summary (and much more intelligent debate) on Mahalo Answers.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009
  Times of London blogs A River Kwai Story
The Times of London, Times Online Archive blog features A River Kwai Story on April 21, 2009.

Titled Waterboarding was a war crime in WW2. What's changed? it builds on former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's contention that waterboarding was an effective way of getting information.

It links to my 2005 blog, Waterboarding is a war crime as well as stories in the Times about POW Eric Lomax and a letter to the Times from General Sir Arthur Percival marking the death in a plane crash of Cyril Wild. (Note to read letter you must accept popups from Times Online)

See also a second link from the Times on "humane" torture by the French in Algeria.

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Friday, June 06, 2008
  The David Lean Anniversary Conference

This year, 2008, as we've all heard from the superheated publicity, is the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of author Ian Fleming.

The fact that 2008 is also the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of one ot the greatest film directors David Lean, has had less hype.

There have been events in London all year marking the anniversary and one is a conference at Queen Mary University on July 25 and 26, 2008, that "offers an opportunity both to celebrate David Lean's career and to evaluate the nature of his achievement."

You can find out more about the David Lean conference on both the conference website or, if you're on Facebook, by joining the Facebook group David Lean 100th Anniversary Conference QMUL.

Facebook Event page for the conference.

I'll be speaking about "that movie" that it is what many former prisoners called The Bridge on the River Kwai on the afternoon of July 26, officially on "The Reception of The Bridge on the River Kwai among Former Far East Prisoners of War." It was a love hate relationship with that great film for many former POWs.

And I'll tell the conference why.
Hope to see you there.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008
  A River Kwai Story published, available online
A River Kwai Story: The Sonkrai Tribunal was officially published on April 4, 2008 by Allan and Uwin in Australia. The publisher is distributing the book in Australia, New Zealand and parts of the western Pacific. Allan and Unwin also has non-exclusive rights to distribute the book in Asia.

So far I haven't been able to sell rights in North America, the United Kingdom and Europe.

No matter, in the age of the Internet, the book is available online almost everywhere! (See below)

A River Kwai Story is a project that has taken almost eight years, but I was planning it for almost a decade, if not more, before that.

My father was a prisoner on the railway of death and so I heard his stories at the breakfast table. He also bought any book he could on the railway, most of the POW memoirs that were published following the success of David Lean's movie The Bridge on the River Kwai.

I really began work in the summer of 2000, when I was admitted to the interdisciplinary masters program at York University in Toronto.

Although my father was part of the group known as "H Force," when I was reading the memoirs my father had bought, I had a gut feeling that "F Force," the events at Sonkrai, was the key to understanding what happened on the Railway of Death. My gut feeling was confirmed when, as part of the interdisciplinary program, I began studying international humanitarian law and found out that the story of F Force not only had some of the most fascinating characters of the Second World War, but was also a little known but key case in the concept of command responsiblity for war crimes.

As I entered the second year of the part time program in September 2001 (I worked for CBC throughout the process and I am still working for CBC News) the attacks on September 11, and the subsequent events in Afghanistan, Guantanamo and Iraq made the story all the more relevant. While the Bush administration was denying that there was a strong legal definition of what constituted "inhuman treatment" of detainees, it was clear that every post-war case in the Far East, including the cases tried by the United States, clearly defined "inhuman treatment."

After I graduated from the MA program in the fall of 2003, I turned turning the academic thesis into a book. I thought it would take a year. It took four. There were delays in getting additional material to flesh out the academic thesis, to write the book as world events kept me busy at my job and then there were some delays in the production process at the Australian publisher.

Now it's available for you to read:

International orders for A River Kwai Story The Sonkrai Tribunal

Updated August 2008

Outside of Australia and New Zealand, the best way to order this book is through a book store that resells through

A River Kwai Story page on

(Note this link does not operate from either or, if you want to order you must go through

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Sunday, March 09, 2008
  John McCain on Japanese waterboarding
Senator John McCain, the Republican candidate for president of the United States surprised me again tonight when he appeared on 60 Minutes and mentioned to interviewer Scott Pelley about how the Japanese used waterboarding during the Second World War.

In one way, I am not surprised, as the son of Second World War POW, abuse like that is of great interest to all who have that legacy and so it is no surprise that the Senator, who was, of course, a prisoner of the North Vietnamese, would have a strong interest in the subject.

But is, as far as I know, the firs time since the Second World War, that an American politician of McCain's stature has brought up the subject of Japanese waterboarding. It is certainly the first time that a presidential candidate has discussed Japanese waterboarding on a major network news show like 60 Minutes.

Here is the key quote:

Pelley asked him about American interrogation methods today. Asked if water boarding is torture, McCain said, "Sure. Yes. Without a doubt."

"So the United States has been torturing POWs?" Pelley asked.

"Yes. Scott, we prosecuted Japanese war criminals after World War II.
And one of the charges brought against them, for which they were convicted, was that they water-boarded Americans," McCain said.

You can read the complete 60 Minutes interview here

Here is my account of the infamous Double Tenth waterboarding case in Singapore in 1943.
I first blogged about Waterboarding is a War Crime in November 2005.

Despite the claims of U.S. officials, waterboarding is not an effective interrogation technique.
You can read the entire blog entry but here is the bottom line summary. British and Australian commandos raided Singapore harbour and successfully blew up ships. The Japanese secret police believed it was civilian internees who committed the sabotage.
So the Japanese tortured their suspects, who under water boarding, and other tortures confessed to taking part in a commando raid they knew nothing about.

Related link: An account of the waterboarding of American POWs by the Japanese during the Second World can be found here from Georgtown University.

Watch the 60 Minutes interview with Republican presidential candidate, Senator John McCain:

Now that Senator McCain has raised the issue, and raised it as part of the campaign, I hope that more people will take a closer look at how the Japanese decided to ignore the Geneva Convention and how the Far East war crimes trials dealt with the issue.

For me this is probably the most interesting U.S. presidential campaign in my lifetime. All three candidates have admirable qualities. (John McCain has also got good poilcies on climate change)

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Thursday, December 20, 2007
  A River Kwai Story progress report
A River Kwai Story

A brief pre-Christmas progress report on A River Kwai Story The Sonkrai Tribunal.
I spent the first couple of weeks of December going through what were once called (and perhaps still are in some ways) "the galleys." In the old days the galleys were the proofs were the long sheets of paper taken off long rows of metal ("hot") type. Later the galleys were the proofs that came out of some sort of electronic typesetting system.

These days it is Adobe's Acrobat system that is the standard, the complete book (all 6.5 megabytes) came to me by e-mail as a pdf attachment for that final check.

So it is now off to the printers (although the book won't be officially out until April, this was a good time to fit into the production schedule.

There is growing pre-publication interest in the book, with my agent looking at an offer for Asian English language rights and United Kingdom rights. Now perhaps an North American publisher will be interested as well.
Up All Night
I appeared live on BBC Radio Five this week (live from a CBC studio in Toronto) at 10:30 pm Toronto time, 3:30 am in the UK, for a 20-odd minute interview with Up All Night's host Rhod Sharp where we explored both the historic aspects of A River Kwai Story and the modern implications.

There is, unfortunately, no podcast of the show, and the onsite "aircheck" expired on Dec. 26.

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Monday, October 15, 2007
  Blackwater:civilian contractors were prosecuted after WWII

Although many legal experts who have been discussing the case of Blackwater USA, the private contractor now being investigated for a shootout in Baghdad, say private contractors are in legal limbo, accountable to neither government nor laws, there is yet another episode from the Second World War in the Far East that is relevant to the modern world.

The guards in the River Kwai prison camps were gonzoku, private contractors employed by the Imperial Japanese Army. Many were tried as war criminals after war, including two of the defendants in A River Kwai Story.

Link to my story for

Private military contractors subject to rule of law
Second World War gonzoku provide precedent

Toyoyama Kesei

One of the main characters in A River Kwai Story is a Korean gonzoku or civilian contractor named Hong Ki-song, also known by his Japanese name Toyoyama Kisei, who was one of the most hated guards on the Burma Thailand Railway, and was notorious for beating prisoners of war with the shaft of a golf club. Toyoyama, who volunteered for the duty, was sentenced to death by a British military court in Singapore. That sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. This mug shot was taken by the U.S. army in Sugamo Prison in Tokyo. (U.S. National Archives)

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Sunday, October 14, 2007
  A River Kwai story picked up by Doubleday Book Club in Australia
A River Kwai Story has been picked up by the Doubleday Book Clubs in Australia.

Link to Doubleday Book Clubs in Australia.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007
  River Kwai Story podcast on Radio Singapore International

In late August, I appeared on a history program on Radio Singapore International called Retrospect to discuss with host Mubin Sadat the history of the Burma Thailand Railway and the new information that will appear in the book A River Kwai Story The Sonkrai Tribunal when it appears in April 2008.

You can listen to the podcast here

Note: If the podcast doesn't download or play automatically, in Windows you can right click, save target as (Explorer) or save link as (Firefox) and then play from your hard drive with any player.

A River Kwai Story The Sonkrai Tribunal main page (includes online ordering information)

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Friday, May 25, 2007
  How Alberto Gonzales failed in history

This just posted on

Alberto Gonzales and the Geneva Convention.
Did the president's lawyer misread the Geneva Convention?

Did Alberto Gonzales, the embattled attorney general of the United States, turn a blind eye to legal history when he wrote a memo to President George W. Bush back in 2002 suggesting ways to avoid the Geneva Convention?

Although my book, A River Kwai Story The Sonkrai Tribunal is largely about the Second World War, it is also about the Geneva Convention and the inhuman treatment of prisoners of war.

So when I was doing my research for the book and I read a key phrase in a memo written January 25, 2002, from Gonzales to President George Bush (and leaked when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke) that said.

. . . some of the language of the GPW [Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War] is undefined (it prohibits, for example, ‘outrages against personal dignity’ and ‘inhuman treatment’) . . .

A River Kwai StoryI was, to say the least, surprised, since almost all the Far East war crimes trials for the abuse of prisoner of war, charged or contained the phrase "inhuman treatment."

How could the counsel to the president of the United States ignore the suffering of several hundred thousand Allied prisoners of war, including thousands of American POWs?"

It may take many years of history to answer that question.

The CBC news story outlines what Gonzales should have known when he wrote that memo.

The book, of course, will tell the reader, the exact details of the "inhuman treatment" carried out by the Japanese against the men of F Force.

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Monday, April 30, 2007
  A River Kwai Story The Sonkrai Tribunal

Here is the cover of A River Kwai Story The Sonkrai Tribunal.

Publication date is Friday, July 6, 2007.

More prisoners of war died at Sonkrai than any other camp on the infamous River Kwai Railway. The seven thousand Australian and British prisoners of war who comprised
F Force were sent by the Japanese to build the toughest section of the railway in the mountains between Thailand and Burma. More than three thousand people died from slave labour, disease, starvation and exposure to the never-ending monsoon rain.

In 1946 seven former guards from the infamous River Kwai camp were put on trial for their lives before a military tribunal in Singapore, charged with the deaths of more than three thousand people. The account of the trial tells for the first time the story of F Force from all sides-Australian, British and Japanese-from the lowest private to the lieutenant colonels in command. The testimony, verdict and the surprise sentence shed new light on what really happened on the Railway of Death.

You can view the Allen and Unwin July books international sales page here.

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Monday, February 12, 2007
  Final edits under way
I have received the first edited chapters back from Allan & Unwin, so the book is on track for the planned publication in July 2007.

The title is now

A River Kwai Story
F Force and the Sonkrai Tribunal

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007
  U.S. declassifies more Japanese war crimes files
The United States National Archives has declassified more files on Japanese War Crimes.

Japanese War Crimes were covered by the Nazi War Crimes Act passed by the US Congress in 1999.

As of January 12, 2007, 100,000 pages of records are now available to the public.

The Archives press release is here.
The page also contains pdf downloads which tells you how to research in the Archives.

The main page for the Interagency Working Group on war crimes is at

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007
  Retribution or responsiblity?

Update: January 17.
Charles Stimson apologized for last week's remarks about lawyers defending terror suspects.

BBC Report
Reuters report here.

"Regrettably, my comments left the impression that I question the integrity of those engaged in the zealous defense of detainees in Guantanamo. I do not," Stimson wrote in response to the furor over his remarks.

"I apologize for what I said and to those lawyers and law firms who are representing clients at Guantanamo. I hope that my record of public service makes clear that those comments do not reflect my core beliefs," he wrote.

So why did Stimson make the remarks in the first place?

Update 2.

Harvard Law professor Charles Fried zeroed in on Charles Stimson in an op ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, now reprinted on the Harvard site.
Fried was Ronald Reagan's Solicitor General and is considered a leading U.S. conservative lawyer:

In his article, Fried says:

How unfortunate that in this country we have plaintiffs' lawyers and defendants' lawyers, lawyers who represent only unions and others who represent only management. One looks with nostalgia at the British bar, where barristers will prosecute one day and defend the next.

That's what my original post was all about.

Original post begins-and stands.

There is a little known fact in the history of war crimes.

The first British war crimes trial in the Far East after the Second World War was for Japanese crimes against Muslim prisoners of war.

Muslim prisoners of war liberated by the United States Marine Corps.

A war crimes case that was first investigated by the Marines, before it was handed on to the British.

The British made sure that the Japanese accused got a vigorous defence.

How times have changed.

Last week, the New York Times and other American media reported the shocking story of how far some in the Bush administration are willing to go in dismantling centuries of Western democratic and legal tradition.

On January 13, 2007, the Times reported that Charles Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs had told a Washington radio station that serves employees of the American government that he "was dismayed that lawyers at many of the nation’s top firms were representing prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and that the firms’ corporate clients should consider ending their business ties."

The Wall Street Journal made the same point in an editorial which the Times says "quoted an unnamed 'senior U.S. official' as saying, 'Corporate C.E.O.’s seeing this should ask firms to choose between lucrative retainers and representing terrorists."

Here is the summary of the story from Editor & Publisher.

Here is the UPI version of the story as it appeared in the conservative Washington Times.

More on Stimson later in this post. But perhaps Stimson and the conservative radio talk show host who made a Freedom of Information request for the list of law firms should learn something from history, which brings me back to Japanese war crimes.

The Muslim prisoners were among members of the British Indian Army, from the Frontier Force Regiment and the Hyberabad Infantry,who refused to join the pro-Japanese Indian National Army after the surrender of Singapore. They were put on board a "hell ship" and sent to the island of Babelthuap in the Palau Islands where they spent three years as slave labour for the Japanese.

When it came to the trial, the British made no secret of the political reasons that the case was the first to be tried. It was aimed at the population of India, which was soon to be independent.

The case was named for the senior Japanese officer in the case Gozawa Sadaichi and nine others.
(with Gozawa, the last name first in Japanese style). You can find a summary of the case on the University of California at Berkeley war crimes site.

A young British lawyer named Colin Sleeman was one of two named to defend the 10 Japanese and two years later published an account of the trial. For this post what he says about defence in such a trial is worth remembering

To be charged with the responsibility of conducting the defence, upon capital charges, of ten nationals of a State so lately our bitterest enemy and who were facing accusations of brutality and murder against members of the British armed force was as indeed as curious a position as that in which any two British officers could find themselves placed....

How a man can defend a prisoner whom he knows or feels, to be guilty? The answer generally is (and certainly was in the Gozawa case) that he does not know. As Dr. Johnson said: "A lawyer has no business with the justice or injustice of the cause he undertakes, unless his client asks his opinion and then he is bound to give it honestly. The justice or injustice of the cause is to be decided by the Judge..."

In a criminal case then, the duty of an advocate for the accused is, regardless of his personal feelings, "to protect his client as much as possible from being convicted, except by competent tribunal and upon legal evidence sufficient to support a conviction with which he is charged."

Sleeman reported that the his clients were "extremely favourably impressed by the kind of trial which they were getting. Gozawa Sadiachi freely admitted this himself and frankly agreed that had the position been reversed, the captives would have been shot out of hand just as their Japanese captors thought fit."

Sleeman concluded his introduction to the trial with these words:

It is, I think, fairly clear that the average citizen of this country wants to see the Japanese War Criminals disposed of summarily without too much delay or fuss, but I am not sure what his attitude would be if it were fairly put to him that by doing so he would be in grave danger of doing himself one of the chief things he fought against, namely killing innocent men in the general massacre. In any case it would certainly have harmful consequences in the future. It is hoped that when the future comes, the ordinary man will be glad that he did not allow his natural feelings of indignation and horror to override his principles; for emotions are a bad guide to conduct when long-standing principles are in question.

In a second case, one I have written and blogged about before, where the Japanese waterboarded innocent British, Eurasian and Chinese civilians, Sleeman was the prosecutor; a man named Samuel Silkin defended.

The two together wrote an account of that trial and they concluded:

To many the most important question which arises out of cases such as this: What is the purpose of trying and executing those involved and what benefit is likely to be secured? That the desire for retribution is an element in the answer to this question can hardly be denied. But that is not the most important factor. Wars in themselves are inhuman, but it is possible to temper their inhumanity with the rules, which are observed by participating nations. If the Double Tenth case served no other purpose it served this, that is had been clearly placed on record that no soldier or civilian of a belligerent power can excuse his individual conduct, howsoever offensive and repugnant to civilized morality it may be, by the plead he was forced to commit it in difference to the commands of his superiors. In wartime it is easy to lose sight of the principles of individual responsibility: it is the purpose of such trials to ensure that this responsibility is fostered and remembered.

(My emphasis in both quotes)

Colin Sleeman went on to become a distinguished British judge who died in the summer of 2006. (Obituary from The Times here and The Telegraph here.)

Samuel Silkin
became the Attorney General of the United Kingdom in the Labour governments from 1974-1979 and later a member of the House of Lords.

Some in the Bush administration would argue that eight centuries of legal tradition matters not because the accused are not from a belligerent power, a "participating nation."

That is wrong.

Whether or not they are uniformed members of a regular army or ununiformed guerrillas, insurgents and terrorists, the purpose of the trial, as Silkin and Sleeman pointed out, is that the law finds individual responsibility and holds those individuals to account.

And one, sadly, has to wonder if the law will ever hold to account those who are now authorizing and carrying out waterboarding in the name of freedom.

And certainly, since many
prisoners at Guantanamo have been released, a good many still there could be innocent.

Sleeman was right in his stand that it is a fair trial, with a vigorous defence, that distinguishes our society from the others.

Back to Stimson.

After the Times articles, the Pentagon quickly disassociated itself from its deputy assistant secretary, as reported by an Associated Press report on the CNN website.

Blogger Andrew Sullivan has twice called for Stimson to be fired, here and here.

Sullivan says

He should be fired, if the deep damage that this administration has already done to the rule of law in America is not to be compounded.

That sounds familiar to me.

Here is what the late Lord Louis Mountbatten, then the Supreme Allied Commander in Southeast Asia, wrote in his introduction to Colin Sleeman's book on the Gozawa trial.

I considered that nothing would diminish our prestige more than if we appeared to be instigating vindictive trials against individuals of a beaten enemy nation, on charges which even our own courts found themselves unable to substantiate.

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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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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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