The torture, and ordure, of Trump
NEW YORK CITY—One of Donald Trump’s sons, the 32-year-old Eric Trump, recently opined that waterboarding “quite frankly is no different than what happens on college campuses and frat houses every day.”
He said so to support his father’s stated intent of reintroducing this particular form of water torture should he get elected president of the United States. “I would bring back waterboarding and I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
The son implies that waterboarding is relatively innocuous, more aligned with frat-house mischief than anything else. (The reference to frat houses is inadvertently revealing, for the braggadocio exhibited by the father in many ways resembles nothing more than frat-boy talk, meant to impress upon the bystander how tough and manly fraternity members are, a reminder really that absent any real heroic deeds this is the best they can muster.)
But what is waterboarding? According to Wikipedia, it is far from innocuous: “Waterboarding is a form of water torture in which water is poured over a cloth covering the face and breathing passages of an immobilized captive, causing the individual to experience the sensation of drowning.” A variation would be to strap the captive on a board tilted toward a vat of water and periodically submerge the board and the captive to get him or her to talk. Some physical consequences are lung and brain damage and even death.
This form of torture was noted in Rizal’s first novel, Noli Me Tangere. A young man by the name of Tarsilo, falsely accused of participating in a fake rebellion—one in which Crisostomo Ibarra is implicated as the ringleader—refuses to talk, and is hung up by his feet above a well. From the Penguin/Augenbraum translation:
To the well with him!
Filipinos know what this means. In Tagalog it is translated as timbain. We don’t know who could possibly have invented the procedure, but we judge it must be fairly old. “Truth emerging from a well” is the sarcastic interpretation, perhaps.
The unfortunate young man is submerged several times in the deep well but each time he refuses to talk. He finally expires:
Tarsilo’s features were no longer constricted. His half-open eyelids let them see the bottom of the whites of his eyes. Watery muck with threads of blood dripped from his mouth. The cold wind blew, but his body no longer shivered.
During the 1899 Philippine-American War, U.S. forces used what was termed the “water cure.” In its April 1901 issue, the New York World condemned the practice:
[The American public] 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!”
But where is that vast national outburst of astounded horror which an old-fashioned America would have predicted at the reading of such news? Is it lost somewhere in the 8,000 miles that divide us from the scenes of these abominations? Is it led astray by the darker skins of the alien race among which these abominations are perpetrated? Or is it rotted away by that inevitable demoralization which the wrong-doing of a great nation must inflict on the consciences of the least of its citizens?
This rare moment of media outrage didn’t stop the practice then, though there were congressional inquiries into its use. And as we know, waterboarding was used during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, this time categorized as an Enhanced Interrogation technique, or EIT. Only in 2006 did the Bush administration ban the use of such torture, a ban reinforced by President Obama in 2009.
Interrogation experts are unanimous in finding that these so-called techniques are useless. In 2014, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence came to the same conclusion, declaring in its report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, that the use of EIT “was not effective in acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.”
Even more recently, according to The Washington Post, the Donald made yet another allusion to the 1899 Philippine-American War, when he repeated an old Internet tale, about General John “Blackjack” Pershing’s ordering his men to execute 49 out of “50 terrorists” (Trump’s term) with bullets dipped in pig’s blood. The 50th he let go, so the man could warn his comrades-in-arms about what could happen to them. (Pig’s blood is of course haram and could mean the dead man being shut out of Paradise.) The general was military commander of what was then known as the “Moro Province” from 1909 to 1913.
This never happened. You don’t even need snopes.com to determine this. No accounts of the Philippine-American War in Mindanao during that period and certainly no biographies of Pershing mention what is clearly an urban legend. But there is a 1939 Hollywood movie, The Real Glory, starring Gary Cooper. Cooper’s character is a medical doctor stationed in Mindanao. To prevent attacks by the Muslim rebels, the good doctor drapes one captive in pigskin, much to the man’s dismay, to serve as an abject lesson to all would-be attackers.
Trump’s audience, as to be expected, lapped this up. No one asked what the United States was doing in the Philippines in the first place. No one bothered to inquire as to the use of the term “terrorist” and who in fact the terrorists were. The so-called rebels were the native population defending their homeland, the object of colonial desire resulting in an immoral war that has since served as a template of U.S. intervention elsewhere.
If Trump declared on that stage that pigs flew, the audience would have gone right out and bought pigs so they could ride ‘em through the skies.
Copyright L.H. Francia 2016
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