Friday, May 19, 2017

Vestal on Waterboarding in the Philippine-American War

Allan Vestal, Drake University Law School, has posted The First Wartime Water Torture by Americans, Maine Law Review 69 (2017): 1-66:
The first use of wartime water torture by Americans occurred during the Philippine-American War of 1899 to 1902, when American soldiers and their indigenous minions used the “water cure” to extract information from Filipinos who resisted the occupation of their land, and to punish them. The practice, in which a prisoner was held down and forced to ingest large quantities of water to simulate drowning, was almost universally acknowledged at the time to be a form of torture, illegal under the applicable laws of war.

The Philippine-American War, an early foray into overseas imperialism, was extremely controversial at the time. Cutting across partisan and sectional lines, the conflict divided the nation between imperialists and anti-imperialists. The conduct of the war intensified the controversy. Beyond water torture, the war was marked by the burning of villages and towns, the establishment of re-concentration camps, and reprisals against innocent civilian hostages. The use of water torture divided the Army, the Senators who investigated the practice, and the nation.

It was against this backdrop of controversy that President Theodore Roosevelt delivered an address to veterans of the Great Rebellion on Memorial Day in 1902, in which he promised to discover and acknowledge every instance of cruelty and barbarity, fairly punish those guilty of such crimes, and take strong action to minimize such crimes in the future. The article traces the failure of the Roosevelt Administration to fulfill these three imperatives, and compares the record of that age with our performance as a nation after our recent use of water torture.