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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/26/09

Remembering the past to change the future – We must hold the torture state accountable

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Message Kenneth Theisen

"Get the good old syringe boys and fill it to the brim
We've caught another n-word and we'll operate on him
Let someone take the handle who can work it with a vim
Shouting the battle cry of freedom"

A U.S. Army marching song composed during the Philippine War entitled "The Water Cure" to celebrate a version of waterboarding used on Filipinos

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." 
  Poet and philosopher, George Santayana 
Betrayal of American ideals or business as usual under imperialism?

The Obama administration has ignited another debate regarding the use of torture by the U.S. government by releasing four more "torture memos" from the Department of Justice. In this debate many arguing for prosecution of those that tortured and also of those who ordered or facilitated the torture, state something to the effect that this is necessary to return the nation to its mythical "ideals," as a nation that does not use or condone torture. But they are only half-right.

Yes! The torturers need to be prosecuted. It is crucial that Bush, Cheney, Tenet, Rumsfeld, Rice, Gonzales, Addington, Yoo, and many other top criminals who either ordered or enabled torture during the Bush regime be prosecuted and imprisoned.  But we should be under no illusions that the U.S. began torture only under the Bush regime or that U.S. imperialism has not used torture as a regular tool to enforce its rule for its entire existence. The collective U.S. historical memory is very short, or in some cases non-existent. This is particularly true when it comes to the subject of torture. 

Torture has been used as a weapon by the U.S. government throughout the history of the nation. During the Bush era the government made a conscious effort to "legalize" and institutionalize torture and used lawyers at the top of the regime to accomplish this. Congress, through the passage of laws such as the Military Commissions Act, did much to facilitate it. But this does not mean previous administrations did not also use torture as a tool in the American wars of conquest. Let's look at just a few of numerous examples of how torture served the interests of the U.S. government.

Waterboarding Filipinos at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries

At the beginning of the 20th century, future president, William H. Taft, was called to testify before the Senate. Anti-imperialist activists had exposed atrocities committed by U.S. forces in the Philippines and congress held hearings. At the time, Taft was the governor general of the Philippines which had been captured in the Spanish American War.

At this 1902 hearing Taft revealed that the U.S. Army, even back then, used "enhanced interrogation techniques" against captured Filipinos. At one point in his testimony he stated, "What I am trying to do is to state...that cruelties have been inflicted;...that there have been... individual instances of the water cure, that torture which I believe involves pouring water down the throat so that the man swells and gets the impression that he is going to be suffocated and then tells what he knows..." Taft was describing the use of waterboarding, which was later used hundreds of times by the Bush regime for interrogations.

In suppressing the independence efforts of the Filipinos, U.S. forces used torture and other terror tactics which resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Filipino nationalists. Waterboarding was so common that it became part of the lyrics of a army marching song that is at the beginning of this article.

Haitians and others as victims of U.S. imperialism

A few years after the "Philippine insurrection" was suppressed, the U.S invaded Haiti in 1915. The invading Marines were accused of killing and torturing hundreds of Haitian prisoners captured during the invasion. U.S. courts-martial boards then dismissed the cases against these marines because of "insufficient evidence."  Of course most of the witnesses had been murdered and those that remained were too frightened to testify. The U.S. crimes were covered up until election-year politics exposed them.  But even then, Congress did not investigate the crimes until a 1921 Congressional inquiry finally was conducted and revealed many of the gruesome facts. Still no U.S. officials were prosecuted for the war crimes of the invaders.

Throughout the early decades of the 20th century the U.S. repeatedly invaded many countries in the western hemisphere. Torture and death routinely became tools of control in these countries on behalf of U.S. imperialism.

In a 1933 speech, Marine Corp General Smedley Butler described his role in these countries, "I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916."

Vietnam - the Phoenix Program

Sixty-some years after the suppression of the Philippines, the U.S. would again massively use torture against Southeast Asian people in the Vietnam War.  The U.S. created the Phoenix Program. The program was conceived by the CIA and then "outsourced" to the puppet government of South Vietnam. U.S. Special Forces coordinated the program with the South Vietnamese.

The Phoenix program targeted Vietnamese civilian opposition to the U.S occupation and its puppet supporters. More than 25,000 people were assassinated by U.S. killing teams. More than 35,000 Vietnamese were imprisoned and tortured. They were often held captive for long durations in so-called "Tiger Cages."  Prisoners were interrogated at more than forty different interrogation hellholes where the puppet government interrogators were "advised" by U.S. personnel. Torture not only served the purpose of obtaining "intelligence; it also was utilized to spread terror among the population to discourage resistance.

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Kenneth J. Theisen is veteran activist of movements opposing U.S. imperialism, its wars and domination of countries throughout the world. He wrote his first op-ed piece against the Vietnam war when he was only 12 and has been writing on various (more...)
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Remembering the past to change the future – We must hold the torture state accountable

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