!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Evan Wallach
Evan Wallach was a participant or observer in the following events:
In the aftermath of World War II, Japanese officer Yukio Asano is charged by a US war crimes tribunal for torturing a US civilian. Asano had used the technique of “waterboarding” on the prisoner (see 1800 and After). The civilian was strapped to a stretcher with his feet in the air and head towards the floor, and water was poured over his face, causing him to gasp for air until he agreed to talk. Asano is convicted and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Other Japanese officers and soldiers are also tried and convicted of war crimes that include waterboarding US prisoners. “All of these trials elicited compelling descriptions of water torture from its victims, and resulted in severe punishment for its perpetrators,” reporter Evan Wallach will later write. In 2006, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), discussing allegations of US waterboarding of terror suspects, will say in regards to the Asano case, “We punished people with 15 years of hard labor when waterboarding was used against Americans in World War II.” [Washington Post, 10/5/2006; National Public Radio, 11/3/2007]
Evan Wallach, a New York judge who teaches the law of war at two New York City law schools, pens an editorial for the Washington Post protesting the argument that waterboarding has somehow become legal. Wallach, a former Judge Advocate General officer in the Nevada National Guard, recalls routinely lecturing military policemen about their legal obligations towards their prisoners. He writes that he always concluded by saying: “I know you won’t remember everything I told you today, but just remember what your mom told you: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” He is proud to note that the unit he was with, the 72nd Military Police Company, “refused to participate in misconduct at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.”
Waterboarding Is Real, Not Simulated, Drowning - Wallach then explains what waterboarding is. It is not “simulated drowning,” as many media reports characterize it: “That’s incorrect. To be effective, waterboarding is usually real drowning that simulates death. That is, the victim experiences the sensations of drowning: struggle, panic, breath-holding, swallowing, vomiting, taking water into the lungs, and, eventually, the same feeling of not being able to breathe that one experiences after being punched in the gut. The main difference is that the drowning process is halted. According to those who have studied waterboarding’s effects, it can cause severe psychological trauma, such as panic attacks, for years.”
Prosecution of Waterboarding as Torture Goes Back to 1898 - Wallach notes that after World War II, several Japanese soldiers were tried and executed for waterboarding American and Allied prisoners of war. One former POW, Lieutenant Chase Nielsen, testified: “I was given several types of torture.… I was given what they call the water cure.… Well, I felt more or less like I was drowning… just gasping between life and death.” The waterboarding of POWs was one of the driving forces behind the US’s organization of war crimes trials for senior Japanese military and civilian officials. Wallach writes: “Leading members of Japan’s military and government elite were charged, among their many other crimes, with torturing Allied military personnel and civilians. The principal proof upon which their torture convictions were based was conduct that we would now call waterboarding.” (Weeks later, torture opponent Senator John McCain will cite the Japanese prosecutions in a presidential debate—see November 29, 2007). Wallach notes that as far back as 1898, US soldiers were court-martialed for waterboarding Filipino guerrillas during the Spanish-American War. More recently, a group of Filipino citizens sued, in a US district court, the estate of former Phillipine President Ferdinand Marcos, claiming they had been waterboarded and subjected to other tortures. The court awarded the plaintiffs $766 million in damages, and wrote: “[T]he plaintiffs experienced human rights violations including, but not limited to… the water cure, where a cloth was placed over the detainee’s mouth and nose, and water producing a drowning sensation.” In 1983, a Texas sheriff and three of his deputies were convicted of violating prisoners’ civil rights by subjecting them to a procedure similar to waterboarding (see 1983). Wallach concludes: “We know that US military tribunals and US judges have examined certain types of water-based interrogation and found that they constituted torture. That’s a lesson worth learning. The study of law is, after all, largely the study of history. The law of war is no different. This history should be of value to those who seek to understand what the law is—as well as what it ought to be.” [Washington Post, 11/4/2007]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.