I just got back from a speaking tour through New Mexico with Mike Otterman, the author of American Torture and my colleague Tom Moran.
Here is a piece we wrote from the South West that unfortunately it didn’t get picked up by the local press at the time we were out there. Nevertheless we wanted to post it and hear readers thoughts.
by Michael Otterman, Raj Purohit, and Tom Moran
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Thomas Harrison, of Clovis, New Mexico, called it the “water treatment”.
On May 21, 1951, Lieutenant Colonel Harrison’s F-80 was shot down over North Korea. Two years later, Harrison returned home to Clovis a broken man. Harrison recalled:
“After two weeks of talking, they weren’t getting the information they wanted. So one day in November ten of them came into my cell. They used the water treatment. They would bend my head back, put a towel over my face and pour water over the towel. I could not breath. This went on hour after hour, day after day. It was freezing cold. When I would pass out, they would shake me and begin again. They would leave me tied to the chair with the water freezing on and around me.”
Under torture, Harrison signed whatever was put before him. Every man has his breaking point. In a North Korean prison, Harrison had reached his.
Today, the “water treatment” has a different name though the torture is still the same. In 2002, President George W. Bush authorized the CIA to “water-board” al Qaeda suspects captured during the War on Terror. ABC News reports that 9/11 plotter, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, was water-boarded in a secret CIA prison in Poland. KSM was chained to a wooden board, a rag was fixed in his mouth, then cellophane was firmly wrapped over his face. Cold water was then poured over his mouth until he began to gag and lurch. After two and a half minutes, KSM broke. He admitted to an incredulous 31 different plots- nearly every act of terrorism against the United States since the early 1990s.
Last week we learned from ABC News that White House authorization of water-boarding has been rescinded. While we would like to applaud the decision to move away from using this tactic, the fact that no White House or CIA official has confirmed this on shift on-the-record still gives us pause.
In response to the ABC News report, Arizona Senator John McCain stated: “Water-boarding is a form of torture. And I’m convinced that [banning it] will not only help us in our interrogation techniques, but it will also be helpful for our image in the world.”
While we acknowledge that the Senator has been an important voice on the torture issue, we have to express concern with his belief that: a) water-boarding has in fact been ended by the Administration; and b) that an off the record suggestion that the CIA no longer water-boards will do anything to improve the US image across the globe.
The Bush Administration’s refusal to adhere to core international legal norms in the interrogation arena have made it difficult to believe that such a change has in fact happened without some type of public statement. A positive change in US interrogation policy needs to be articulated by those in positions of real power in the Administration both to improve the US standing in the world and, frankly, to reassure ordinary Americans that their country is once again living up to the ideals of its founding. To restore the American image in the world the Administration needs to do the right thing and be seen to do the right thing.
As we tour through the South West discussing the issue of torture, we are finding that the American public understands that methods of torture once used by our Cold War enemies on New Mexicans like Thomas Harrison have no place in America today. It is past time that their elected leaders in Washington, DC begin to grasp this reality is well.