In contrast to years of spinning and prevaricating from the Bush administration about water boarding, Eric Holder told Congress yesterday during his first day of confirmation hearings that “Water Boarding is Torture.” As many sources have pointed out, the United States has itself prosecuted individuals who waterboarded American soldiers, deeming the perpetrators of water-boarding guilty of torture.
In fact, the “water cure” as it was then called, was widely acknowledged as torture a century ago when, during the vicious American campaign in the Phillipines at the beginning of the twentieth century, reports of the use of the water cure against Filipino insurgents were common.
Relatedly, in an interview this week, Susan Crawford, the convening authority for the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, has now said unequivocally that torture was used there to extract confessions from alleged 20th Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed al-Qahtani. Furthermore, Crawford said, the torture itself undermined the prosecution’s potential case, compelling her not to refer the case for further adjudication before a court.
As critics have been hammering home for years, not only is torture, as a legal matter, in categorical contravention of American law and our international commitments under the Geneva conventions and other agreements, but its application sullies our moral reputation and standing. Furthermore, it’s widely accepted by intelligence professionals themselves that torture is, as a practical matter, counter-productive, far more likely to extract false information than actionable intelligence.
America’s hands have, of course, been sullied by torture before the Bush administration came to power. It’s long been an unacknowledged part of American practice, both domestically and internationally. Even when American personnel have been barred from practicing it as a legal matter, we’ve long tolerated or facilitated such practices in our allies when it served our purposes. One should not be naive enough to think, therefore, that the Obama administration will completely rid itself of this particular stain. But it’s at least refreshing to see the next Attorney General of the United States reject the sickening moral relativism and linguistic slight of hand that has characterized the past eight years when it comes to this issue.