Recently by Thomas DiLorenzo: The Party of Great Moral Frauds
What do the Nazi Gestapo, the South African police during Apartheid, the Japanese military during World War II, Spanish "Grand Inquisitor" Tomas de Torquemada, William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Senator Joe Lieberman, and Marc Levin have in common? The answer is that they were/are all practitioners of or apologists for forms of water torture that have long been illegal under U.S. and international law. (The U.S. executed Japanese soldiers during World War II for the war crime of water torture). In the U.S. in recent years it has been called "water boarding."
These parallels were brought to mind recently while re-reading F.A. Hayek's classic, The Road to Serfdom. In Chapter 10, entitled "Why the Worst Get to the Top," Hayek wrote that in a totalitarian state (or one that is becoming more so), "to be a useful assistant in the running of a totalitarian state, it is not enough that a man should be prepared to accept specious justification of vile deeds; he must himself be prepared actively to break every moral rule he has ever known . . ." Moreover, he "must be completely unprincipled and literally capable of everything." Those who aspire to "leading positions" in "the totalitarian machine," wrote Hayek, will come to understand that "there will be special opportunities for the ruthless and unscrupulous" where one can prosper by practicing "cruelty and intimidation, deliberate deception and spying . . ." Hayek was referring to the fascist and socialist regimes of the 1940s, but his words also seem increasingly descriptive of contemporary American government with its taser-armed rogue police thugs, its TSA gropers and perverts, its constant bombardment of the public with lies about just about everything, and its spy cameras on street corners, in satellites, drones, warrantless wiretaps, internet spying, and worse.
The Spanish "Water Cure"
Water torture was a totalitarian tool used by the Spanish "Grand Inquisitor" Tomas de Torquemada during the fifteenth-century Spanish Inquisition. The accused were placed naked on a table with their feet elevated, hands and legs bound, and their nose blocked. Water was poured into his or her mouth which was then stuffed with a rag so that the water could not be spit out. It would create the sensation of drowning and in some cases the stomach would feel as though it would burst — or it would burst, killing the victim.
The purpose of what the Spaniards called "the water cure" was to torture people who had converted from Judaism to Catholicism but were suspected of secretly practicing their original religion. (For example, the absence of smoke from chimneys on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath, was considered to be a strong indication that the accused was a Jew since Judaism forbade performing labor such as lighting chimney fires on the Sabbath). Several thousand Jews were eventually convicted and executed after enduring "the water cure." The sentence for "heresy" was burning at the stake. This was one of the worst examples in history of the evils of the non-separation of church and state.
The American "Water Cure"
The U.S. military has employed a version of Torquemada's "water cure" almost from the beginning of the republic. It was used extensively by the Lincoln administration on Northern civilians during the War to Prevent Southern Independence according to historian and Lincoln cultist Mark Neely, Jr. in his book, Fate of Liberty. Article 3, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution defines treason as "only levying war upon the States . . ." which of course is exactly what Lincoln's invasion of the Southern states was. But Lincoln took it upon himself to personally redefine treason as being any criticism of himself, his policies, or the Republican Party. Consequently, hundreds of newspapers in the North were shut down and tens of thousands of Northern civilians were imprisoned without due process (Habeas Corpus having been illegally suspended) under the guise of battling "treason." Lincoln himself even once announced that a man who merely remains silent while his administration's policies were being discussed was being traitorous. All of the totalitarian communist governments of the twentieth century espoused the same notion and enforced it vigorously.
Neely writes of how Northern state citizens suspected of not being fully supportive of the Lincoln regime were frequently dragged into a gulag without due process and tortured with hoses shoved down their throats until their stomachs sometimes burst. The practice came to light when a British citizen visiting the U.S. was mistakenly arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. British envoy to the U.S., Lord Lyons, learned of it and protested loudly. If it were not for Lord Lyons, the American public might never have learned of the use of "the water cure" by the U.S. Army. Even though such barbaric practices were illegal under U.S. law, Neely wrote of how the Lincoln administration did nothing more than make note of Lord Lyons' protest and then continued on with the practice for the duration of the war.
The Spanish "water cure" was also used extensively during the U.S. military's next Big Adventure, the Spanish-American War. As described by Gregg Jones in Honor in the Dust: Theodore Roosevelt, War in the Philippines, and the Rise and Fall of America's Imperial Dream (p. 209), tactics against Filipino villagers included:
. . . burning of houses or entire villages, torture of witnesses or suspects, and, in some cases, summary execution of suspected guerrillas. Gordon's Scouts, an elite 18th Infantry mounted outfit, was widely feared . . . for its harsh tactics. Its favorite interrogation technique was the u2018water cure,' in which a victim was held down, his mouth pried open with a piece of bamboo or a rifle barrel, and dirty or salty water poured down his throat until the stomach swelled to the bursting point — a painful procedure that typically produced quick results.
Jones further describes the torture of the mayor of a small village who, when asked if he knew where the leader of the rebels was, said that he had no idea. A Captain Glenn, who had kicked Catholic nuns out of their convent and made it into his headquarters, ordered "water detail" for the mayor. As Jones writes (p. 213), the mayor was:
Thrown to the floor beneath a water tank, his mouth forced open and the spigot turned. As water gushed down the Filipino's throat and filled his stomach, an interpreter stood over him, ordering . . . Answer! Answer! When [the mayor] was filled with water, [soldiers] pounded his stomach with their fists. Water spurted from the man's nose and mouth, and the process began anew.
The mayor eventually talked, but the American soldiers didn't believe what he told them, so that a second round of "the water cure" was ordered. His stomach was filled with water again, and a "syringe was placed in his nose and more water forced into him. When that also failed to yield the desired answer . . . salt was thrown into the water can . . ."
Frustrated by their lack of success with the "water cure," the American military officer in charge then "ordered the town burned. Torches were lit and, as terrified families fled their houses with the few possessions they could carry, the American soldiers fanned out" to start more fires. "By midnight, fewer than twenty of the five hundred structures in [the town] remained standing." And Theodore Roosevelt called the Filipinos "savages."
General Sherman would have been proud, since it sounds so much like his bombardment and burning of Atlanta in 1864 after the Confederate Army had evacuated that city. Earlier in the war, Sherman had ordered the burning of the entire town of Randolph, Tennessee, in frustration over his failure to apprehend rebel sharpshooters along the Mississippi River.
As Hayek said, totalitarian societies provide ample "leadership" (and money-making) opportunities for those who are willing to abandon all morals and brutalize or even murder for the sake of the regime. There are also lucrative "leadership" opportunities for academic or journalistic apologists for such regimes. Which brings us to today's champions of the U.S. military's use of "the water cure." First we have Senator Joe Lieberman who has declared that "water boarding is not torture." (Senator John McCain, who was extensively tortured for years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, has unequivocally stated that it is indeed torture).
William Kristol once suggested that the military practitioners of water boarding be given the Medal of Freedom. Writing in Kristol's magazine, The Weekly Standard, Michael Goldfarb wrote that "to call this torture . . . diminishes the very real torture" practiced by "rogue states." Goldfarb also suggested that this favorite tool of the Nazi Gestapo may actually "give you a buzz," kind of like having a couple of martinis before dinner or smoking a joint.
Psychiatrist and television talking head Charles Krauthammer defended the American "water cure" by making the intellectually sophisticated argument that "you have to do what you have to do." The screeching and screaming radio loudmouth Marc Levin once shouted in defense of water torture on his radio program: "Why in the hell would we take an effective tool off the table?!"
The answer to this question posed by "The Grate One" was answered by Jesse Ventura on a television program in which he said (paraphrasing), "Give me Dick Cheney and water boarding and I will get him to confess to the Sharon Tate murders." In other words, human nature suggests that people undergoing such torture will say anything to end their misery. This is not a complicated or sophisticated point. The public will never know if any information of any value at all was ever acquired by the U.S. military's use of this totalitarian tool, for the government lies about everything, especially the conduct of the CIA, the administrators of the twenty-first century version of the Spanish "water cure."
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln; Lincoln Unmasked: What You're Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe and How Capitalism Saved America. His latest book is Hamilton's Curse: How Jefferson's Archenemy Betrayed the American Revolution — And What It Means for America Today. His next book is entitled Organized Crime: The Unvarnished Truth About Government.