How for Home and Freedom

The act of forcing water down a person’s throat to make them think they’re drowning. The panic it produces is primal, intense, and uncontrollable. Known today as water-boarding, we deemed it criminal enough to put Japanese prisoners on trial and execute as war criminals after WW2 because of it.

The previous president, George W. Bush, wrote in his memoirs that he approved its use with a “damn right” bravado. Some might consider that to be  a confession to war crimes and a clear violation of the rules of the Geneva Convention.

But this is not the first time in U.S. history that the controversy of water-boarding was in the spotlight. Torture by water-boarding has been around for a very long time. It’s not some new technique developed after 9/11.

In fact, water-boarding was actually investigated by a Senate Committee…. way back in 1902.

“Torturing to make them confess — what? Truth? Or lies? How can one know which it is they are telling? For under unendurable pain a man confesses anything that is required of him, true or false, and his evidence is worthless.”

To whom would you guess can be attributed that quote? Maybe Cindy Sheehan? Or perhaps the latest spokesperson for Amnesty International?

No, the quote is from Mark Twain. The same person that wrote “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.

In 1898, the U.S. had decided to invade the Philippines in what would become the Philippine-America war. Support for American actions in the Philippines was justified by those in the U.S. government and media who supported the conflict through the use of moralistic grounds.

Stuart Creighton Miller writes, “America’s job was to protect the Filipinos from European predators waiting in the wings for an American withdrawal and to tutor them in American-style democracy.”

In reality, it was to gain a important trade route for Far East China by not allowing the Philippines to declare sovereignty after their revolt from Spain. But the Philippine invasion wasn’t going so well for Americans, quickly turning into a “damnable quagmire” that lasted over 12 years.

Harsh methods began when American Brigadier General Jacob Smith instructed soldiers to transform the island into a “howling wilderness,” to “kill and burn” to the greatest degree possible—“The more you kill and burn, the better it will please me”—and to shoot anyone “capable of bearing arms.”

When asked to clarify what this last stipulation meant in practical terms, General Smith defined it as any male over the age of 10 years old. Officers routinely resorted to the “water cure” in order to extract information from Philippine suspects as necessary to gain information.

Some of the U.S. soldiers that were in the middle of this scorched earth policy started mentioning the atrocities when they wrote letters back home. These letters came to attention of Senator George Frisbie Hoar, of Massachusetts, an opponent of the war, who called for an investigation.

He proposed the formation of an independent committee, but Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge insisted that the hearings take place inside his own, majority-Republican Committee on the Philippines.

The Lodge Committee investigation began at the end of January 1902. In the months that followed, two distinct visions of the hearings emerged. Anti-war Democrats hoped for a broad examination of the conduct of the war. Lodge, along with the Republican majority, wanted to keep the focus on the present and was “not convinced” of the need to delve into “some of the disputed questions of the past.”

Some testimony during the investigation was given by William Howard Taft, who was appointed governor of the Philippines. He shocked many people when he testified before Congress that the “so-called water cure” was used “on some occasions to extract information.”

Testimony was conflicted. One witness would state that nobody was actually harmed by the “water cure.” Paradoxically, a soldier would reveal that he had used the “water cure” on 160 people and only 26 had survived. But with little success in February 1903, Lodge’s Republican-controlled committee voted to end its inquiry into the allegations of torture. The public was no longer interested in something that only months earlier been alarming revelations.

As early as April 16, 1902, the New York World described the “American Public” sitting down to eat its breakfast with a newspaper full of Philippine atrocities:

It sips its coffee and reads of its soldiers administering the “water cure” to rebels; of how water with handfuls of salt thrown in to make it more efficacious, is forced down the throats of the patients until their bodies become distended to the point of bursting; of how our soldiers then jump on the distended bodies to force the water out quickly so that the “treatment” can begin all over again.

The American Public takes another sip of its coffee and remarks, “How very unpleasant!”

As to my opinion of “Is water-boarding torture and did it effect America?” I will answer with part of a poem from Katharine Bates:

The flag that dreamed of delivering
Shudders and droops like a broken wing.

1902 Picture of Philippine “Water Cure”

Here in it’s entirety ..
“In the Philippines”  was composed by Katharine Lee Bates,  author of “America the Beautiful,” and written in response to the war against the Philippine insurgents in 1899.

Silvery rice-fields whisper wide
How for home and freedom their owners died.
We’ve set the torch to their bamboo town,
And out they come in a scampering rush,

Little brown men with spears.
Down they go in a crush,
Sickening smears,

Hideous writhing huddles and heaps
Under the palms and the mango-trees.
More, still more! Shoot ‘em down
Like brown jack-rabbits that scoot

With comical leaps
Out of the brush.
No loot?
No prisoners, then. As for these— Hush!

The flag that dreamed of delivering
Shudders and droops like a broken wing.
Silvery rice-fields whisper wide
How for home and freedom their owners died.

(New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1911).


About Krell

I used to have superpowers… but a therapist took them away.
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12 Responses to How for Home and Freedom

  1. osori says:

    Nicely written, and a good reminder of some past history people may not know of.

    Americans as 0blivious to what we did to other peoples back then as they are now. They sat and enjoyed Shock and Awe with their morning coffee this time too. Cheered the IDF slaughtering Palestinians with their evening meal as well.

    Some thought was given to bringing Christianity to the Filipinos, who were already Roman Catholics.

  2. Norman says:

    Torture is torture, no mater who, how, what. Not sure whether or not the American people will ever understand or care, unless or until they have undergone the procedure. Perhaps that’s why seniors are subjected to what could be termed torture in their old age, last time alive, etc., without going into some of the horror stories that are brought to light on occasion.

    This country put war criminals to death for torture, yet our own war criminals go free. These very same individuals bring shame to the U.S.A. with their actions, regardless of who they are. The biggest insult comes from the top down, the P.O.T.U.S., the Congress, the Courts. This holier than thou attitude is part of the shame that the World sees in America today. Perhaps it’s time that every elected official as well as the members of the war machine undergo the same torture of water boarding! Perhaps then they wouldn’t be so quick to jump the gun, so to speak.

    • Krell says:

      What you write…. “Torture is torture, no matter who, how, what”
      That sums the argument up right there Norman. There really isn’t any need for further discussion.

      Torture is torture. The rules of law… HELL, the rules of common decency requires that those who ordered it must be punished. Anything less not only lowers the humanity of this country but also the world.

      We have lost our credibility to pressure other countries in human rights. China recently stated.. “Who are we to complain about human rights issues..”

      Indeed, who are we?? Thank you for your comment Norman.

  3. Gwendolyn H. Barry says:

    Definitely a history lesson. Lots to learn from this … I am against war. I am against what keeps us from evolving … the natural progression. People who are anchored in fears and lack and the desires to have what others hold and are never encouraged to create for themselves… they are the support system for all this. It isn’t just the United States …
    though, David, your point about how we are such political hypocrites and cowards … when we could be (and have been) the exact opposite; that resonates. How do we get back there?
    It’s a great post. Learned lots.

    • Krell says:

      Torture has always been part of history, a sad part of mankind. It created controversy back then, enough to warrant a hearing.

      But now it gets freely discussed on the Oprah Show when books are to be sold. There seems to be a line of humanity that this country has crossed in the past 10 years. Uncomfortable things that are looked over or not discussed, all in the name of fighting the “war on terror”.

  4. Stimpson says:


    As Norman said above, ‘torture is torture, no matter who’ does it. A war crime is a war crime, no matter who does it. The people who ordered this torture, these war crimes, should not be living in comfort as they are now. At the very least, I would like to see Cheney, Rumsfeld et al. unable to travel overseas, or to Canada, for fear of being arrested for their crimes.

    • Krell says:

      I think Rummy had some problems with some overseas trips and I know GWB was advised not to travel to Switzerland or certain parts of Europe. It would be very awkward for the US if GWB was arrested. You know the diplomatic pressure to release him would be intense.

      Obama has already pressured Spain to drop the charges against the some CIA operatives that did an extraordinary rendition as made public by WikiLeaks.

  5. jackjodell53 says:

    Cheney, Bush, RUMSFELD, YOO, Addington, Fleischer, Rice, Gonzales – all belong in the Hague, right NOW, for war crimes and crimes against humanity, for the way they brutalized Iraq, engaged in torture, and have lied about it ever since.Oh, and by the way: Dick and Liz Cheney, waterboarding IS torture, you absolute imbeciles!!!

    • Stimpson says:

      The guy without a heartbeat really oughta volunteer to be waterboarded if he feels so strongly about how it’s not so bad.

    • Krell says:

      Water-boarding produces such overwhelming primal fear and panic. Nobody can last more than a few seconds.

      In a Special Forces training program in capture and resist preparations, water-boarding was used as part of the program but it was abandoned. Nobody could last more than a few seconds, it was deemed too demoralizing to the program.

  6. oso says:

    from ABC News:

    According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda’s toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.

    • Krell says:

      Wow! Minutes must have seemed like an eternity.

      Begging to confess… and that’s just it. You are begging to confess whether you have information or not. You would confess to murdering Abraham Lincoln if it gets them to stop. The information supposedly extracted from Khalid by water-boarding was actually from his FBI handler before the CIA took over.

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