Saturday, September 1, 2012

Generation Gap: Torture

     After leaving office, former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney continued to defend waterboarding.  Bush (born 1946) and Cheney ( born in 1941) call attention to a generation gap.  Republicans opposed to torture include Colin L. Powell (born 1937), John McCain (born 1936) and Ron Paul (born 1935).
     In a 2004 survey, the Pew Research Center documented the same generation gap in the American population in general.  Pew asked respondents to choose whether torture is “often,” “sometimes,” “rarely” or “never” justified.  Pew considered several demographic groups (racial, religious and political).  Pew found the greatest refusal to torture by considering age.  Of those 65 and over in 2004, 44% said torture of a terrorism suspect is “never justified.”  
     For several years, Pew asked the same question on an annual basis.  By 2009, the percentage of those 65 and older who chose “never” dropped eleven percentage points, from 44% in 2004 to 33% in 2009.  
     In the intervening years, America lost many members of the World War II generation.  In the same period, a new vintage of Americans entered the “65 and older” demographic.  In 2004, those 65 and older meant Americans born in or before 1939.  In 2009, that age group included people born from 1940 through part of 1944.  
     Simply turning 65 did not increase a respondent’s inclination to say “never” to torture; being born before 1940 did.  
     One of the most common excuses for torture is the claim that al-Qaida is an enemy worse than any previous enemy.  The better you remember World War II (1939-1945), the less likely you are to believe that excuse.
     In 2006, McCain opposed Bush's efforts to redefine American commitment to the Geneva Conventions.  On Sept. 12, 2006, Gen. John W. Vessey wrote McCain a letter of support. Vessey was not impressed by claims that al-Qaida is a "different enemy." 
     Vessey appealed to his memory of World War II:  “In my short 46 years in the Armed Forces, Americans confronted the horrors of the prison camps of the Japanese in World War II, the North Koreans in 1950-53 and the North Vietnamese in the long years of the Vietnam War, as well as knowledge of the Nazi's Holocaust depredations in World War II.”
     Vessey wrote, “Through those years, we held to our own values. We should continue to do so.”
     Lt. Col. Chase J. Nielsen (United States Air Force, retired) was on board one of Lt. Col. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle's bombers that attacked Tokyo in 1942.  The Air Force Print News  quoted Nielsen's remarks at an April 18, 2006 reunion of the Doolittle Raiders:  “I hope and pray that our young men and young women who are serving ... will live their lives in accordance with the military rules and laws of war.”  
     The sanctity of the laws of war must have had a special meaning to Nielsen.  In 1942, Nielsen and nine other Americans became prisoners of the Empire of Japan after the crash of their bomber.  To force Americans to confess they intentionally targeted civilians, the Japanese tortured the prisoners.  After the war,  Nielsen testified at the war crimes trial of his captor.  In the article "Drop by Drop:  Forgetting the History of Water Torture in U. S.  Courts," Columbia Journal of Transnational Law vol. 45 (2007), page 476, Judge and Nevada National Guard Veteran Evan Wallach offered this quote from Nielsen's testimony:

"Well, I was put on my back on the floor with my arms and legs stretched out, one guard holding each limb.  The towel was wrapped around my face...and water poured on.  They poured water on this towel until I was almost unconscious from strangulation, then they would let up until I'd get my breath, then they'd start over again."

Lieutenant General Shigeru Sawada, a wartime commander of Japan's Imperial Expeditionary Army in China, faced war crimes trials with other defendants accused of leveling "fraudulent" charges against prisoners like Nielsen.
     The description of this torture technique supported the prosecution's claim that the charges were false and any confessions obtained under such treatment were also false..  The torture technique Nielsen suffered closely matches descriptions of what, after 2004, was called "waterboarding" (consult Wallach, "Drop by Drop," pages 478-480.)
     Frank Gibney was an expert on Japanese culture. Gibney’s expertise began with his service as a Navy intelligence officer interrogating Japanese prisoners during World War II.  Gibney’s son, filmmaker Alex Gibney, lets his father give a statement on interrogations as the credits roll for the 2007 film Taxito the Dark Side Adam Liptak of The New York Times also quotes Frank Gibney's remarks from the closing credits of Taxi to the Dark Side
We had the sense that we were on the side of the good guys.  People would get decent treatment.  And there was the rule of law.”  
     Frank Gibney was seriously ill, but determined to give his filmmaker-son a statement against the mistreatment of prisoners.  A little more than a month after filming the interview, the elder Gibney passed away.
     The generation gap seemed apparent in 2007 at National Park Service ceremonies honoring World War II interrogators based in Fairfax County, Virginia.  As a Baby Boomer President defended harsh interrogation techniques in the war on terror, professional interrogators in their eighties and nineties condemned anything less than respectful interrogations.  Reporting for The Washington Post, Petula Dvorak quoted ninety-year-old Henry Kolm as saying, “We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture.”
     In the 1960s, hippies rebelled against the morals of their parents’ generation.  In 2007, World War II veterans rebelled against the lower standards of a pro-waterboarding Baby Boomer President and his 1941-born Vice President.    

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