A case of history repeating —- Waterboarding during the Philippine American War (1898 - 1902).
"His sufferings must be that of a man who is drowning, but cannot drown."
—- Lt. Grover Flint, Philippine American War
One of the most controversial topics related to the War on Terrorism and modern intelligence gathering doctrine has been the use of torture, causing very passionate views on both sides. One of the most controversial torture methods is the use of waterboarding, a method in which water is poured continuously over a cloth covered face or down the throat to give the victim the feeling of drowning. Supporters claim that waterboarding is nothing more than a form of interrogation rather than torture. Those who are against waterboarding consider it to be a heinous form of torture that violates human rights. Regardless of one’s stance on the subject, many would be surprised to learn that the first instances of American soldiers waterboarding prisoners was not done at Abu Graib or Guantanamo Bay, nor done during the Iraq War or Afghanistan. Rather, the first instances of American soldiers waterboarding captives occurred in the Philippines during the now forgotten Philippine American War.
In 1898 America won the war against Spain (Spanish American War) and liberated the Philippines from the Spanish. The Filipino’s were overjoyed at the American victory, believing that the United States would make the Philippines an independent country. However when the US occupied the country and made it a colony or dependent territory, many Filipino’s revolted. In response the US Military brutally suppressed the rebellion. During the four year war many atrocities were committed by American soldiers including torture, massacre’s of civilians, and the creation of several concentration camps.
One of the most popular methods of torture used by American soldiers during the war was what was called “the water cure”, a method remarkably similar to modern day waterboarding. One witness named Lt. Grover Flint documented in detail the water cure, writing,
"A man is thrown down on his back and three or four men sit or stand on his arms and legs and hold him down; and either a gun barrel or a rifle barrel or a carbine barrel or a stick as big as a belaying pin, — that is, with an inch circumference, — is simply thrust into his jaws and his jaws are thrust back, and, if possible, a wooden log or stone is put under his head or neck, so he can be held more firmly. In the case of very old men I have seen their teeth fall out, — I mean when it was done a little roughly. He is simply held down and then water is poured onto his face down his throat and nose from a jar; and that is kept up until the man gives some sign or becomes unconscious. And, when he becomes unconscious, he is simply rolled aside and he is allowed to come to. In almost every case the men have been a little roughly handled. They were rolled aside rudely, so that water was expelled. A man suffers tremendously, there is no doubt about it. His sufferings must be that of a man who is drowning, but cannot drown."
In 1902 news of American atrocities, and especially the use of the water cure, reached the American public through reports published by Life and The New Yorker. News of the torture was soon the headline of every newspaper as the American public demanded answers. Accounts of the atrocities enraged the public who pressured the government to stop the torture. The Senate held special hearings into the use of the water cure, leading to the dismissal of a number of US Army officers who had partaken in the torture. US Secretary of War Elihu Root personally order the court martial of Capt. Edwin F. Glenn, who was known to order the water cure for prisoners on a number of occasions. Finally President Theodore Roosevelt ordered the court martial of Gen. Jacob H. Smith. When the court found he had only acted in “excessive zeal”, Roosevelt ordered him dismissed from the army.
On July 4th, 1902 Roosevelt declared the war to be a victory, and within weeks the new of American atrocities in the Philippines was forgotten. The war, however, would continue until 1913 as skirmishes raged between Filipino rebels, Moro natives, and American troops.
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