I want to post the lengthy reader email below because I think lost in the debate on torture is how much torture runs counter to decades of U.S. military training.
After Korea and especially Vietnam, and the torture endured by American servicemen in those conflicts, considerable time and effort went into training our troops in how to survive torture, both physically and, perhaps more importantly, psychologically.
Back in the 1980s, I heard navy officers, for example, talk about how soldiers and airmen captured in Vietnam carried psychological scars from having divulged more than simply their "name, rank, and serial number" and how training changed as a result so that our servicemen understood what was acceptable to divulge and what was not (operational details).
Imbued within this training during the Cold War was the sense that part of what set us apart from our communist adversaries was our adherence to the Geneva Conventions, and that the inhumane tactics used by those adversaries was part and parcel of the totalitarianism that we were combating. There was also the sense--a point of pride really--that we could and would prevail despite holding ourselves to a higher standard. It was, in fact, the higher standard that we were fighting for.
Now I don't mean to sugarcoat things. One name stands out as an example of our own terrible flaws: My Lai. And our involvement in Vietnam remains a sobering testament to the misguided conflating of nationalism and communism. But for millions of U.S. veterans, the debate on torture stands in stark contrast to the training they received and our shared understanding of what we were fighting for and against during the Cold War.
With that long-winded introduction, here is TPM Reader BL, responding to Ed Meese's comments in GQ:
I served in the Air Force from 1982 to 1988. I was an airborne linguist and, as such, was required to go through survival school at Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane. This was a school that officers and enlisted men alike were required to attend...anyone who might end up in a hostile situation or behind enemy lines--or a POW. That was in January of 1984. Part of survival school was training in interrogation resistance and how to handle oneself in the event of capture by enemy forces.
What does that have to do with Meese's remarks, you might ask? Simply this: Our trainers were careful to instruct us on the Geneva Conventions and which interrogation techniques were covered and which were illegal. I have a very clear memory of what they said about waterboarding. As I recall, water boarding was classified as torture and was a violation of the Geneva Conventions. They told us about the technique for the simple reason that the North Vietnamese used it on American Forces. They wanted us to know about that technique in case we were ever captured by "scumbags who didn't respect the Geneva Conventions." There were no demonstrations; it was considered too traumatic.
I'm not making this up. The military trainers at our Survival School had nothing but contempt for techniques like this, and we were taught that they were international criminal offenses. We were also warned that there were groups out there who did not respect international law and wouldn't hesitate to use techniques like these to get the information they wanted. (It also makes me wonder if some of the other torture techniques they told us about are being practiced by our oh-so-enlightened military today.)
My cousin, who was a diver for the Navy, also went through similar training at the same time I did, but in a difference school. We both wen't through survival training at the same time, and we met up on leave in Montana in February of 84 before I went off to my permanent duty station in Greece and he went to Hawaii. He told me they actually put them through the experience for a very short period of time (less than a minute each) so they could see how psychologically disturbing it was.
The procedure as he described it was as follows: You are strapped to a board or plank that is set at an incline angle so that your head is approximately a foot below the level of your feet. A wet cloth is placed over your face so that it covers your eyes, nose and mouth. Then water is dripped steadily onto the cloth over your nose and mouth.
It doesn't sound that bad in the abstract, does it? According to my cousin, it was a terrifying experience. And like me, he was taught that this practice was clearly torture and a violation of the Geneva Conventions.
Anyone who went through Survival School at the same time I did, in the mid-80's, would have been taught about water boarding and would also have been taught that it was a form of Torture. For the mouthpieces of the current administration to now pretend that waterboarding is somehow acceptable--or even somehow borderline--is a deliberate and methodical deception. I can't speak knowledgably about the interrogation resistance training of the US Military for the last 15 years, but if you were in the service in the 80's and you had any chance of being in a combat risk situation, you went through this training. And every last one of us who has completed this training knows that waterboarding is torture, pure and simple.
I'm a little baffled that I haven't seen any other ex-service people speaking up about it.
I would like to hear from more ex-service people about this. Shoot us an email.