Monday, April 27, 2009

Yes, National Review, We Did Execute Japanese for Waterboarding

Former Clinton administration advisor and fellow Longhorn Paul Begala on one of the many points in the ongoing torture debate:

Sen. McCain was right and the National Review Online is wrong. Politifact, the St. Petersburg Times' truth-testing project (which this week was awarded a Pulitzer Prize), scrutinized Sen. McCain's statement and found it to be true. Here's the money quote from Politifact:

"McCain is referencing the Tokyo Trials, officially known as the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. After World War II, an international coalition convened to prosecute Japanese soldiers charged with torture. At the top of the list of techniques was water-based interrogation, known variously then as 'water cure,' 'water torture' and 'waterboarding,' according to the charging documents. It simulates drowning." Politifact went on to report, "A number of the Japanese soldiers convicted by American judges were hanged, while others received lengthy prison sentences or time in labor camps."
More here.

Okay, this doesn't particularly affect the torture debate one way or the other. After all, Americans used to torture their slaves, just as the Japanese tortured their prisoners of war, and then, after slavery was abolished, Americans tortured former slaves and their descendants. I mean, even after we executed Japanese torturers for war crimes, "good" white Americans were still lynching African-Americans in the South. Like all American generations, the so-called "Greatest" was both good and bad, and you don't win the torture argument simply because you appear to be on their side.

But still. It has long been understood by Americans, including General George Washington before there was even such a thing as the United States, that torturing prisoners of war is a shameful disgrace. We Americans have not always behaved according to our values, but, at least, we've always known what those values are--in the war crimes trials after WWII, we even put our money where our metaphoric mouth is, punishing torturers in both Germany and Japan. Until the post 9/11 era, we've never proclaimed to the world that torture is right and good.

How is it possible that when the Germans and Japanese tortured it was wrong, but when we torture, it's right? Obvious answer: it's not possible. As Noam Chomsky often observes, it is a simple moral truism that we should hold ourselves to the same standards to which we hold others. Anything less than that is necessarily immoral.

And we are in grave danger of becoming an officially immoral nation.