There was a recent exchange on Anderson Cooper’s CNN program between Ari Fleischer and Paul Begala about torture. You can watch it here, but Begala loudly announced at one point that:
Our country executed Japanese soldiers who waterboarded American POWs. We excuted them for the same for the same crime we are now committing ourselves.
Fleischer, normally spry in such circumstances, didn’t have a have a response immediately and an awkward silence ensued. Some Daily Kos diarist observed:
Thus ensued a good five seconds of the most satisfying awkward television silence I have ever experienced in my young life.
There’s just one problem. What Begala said isn’t true. Begala appears to be referencing Yukio Asano, a Japanese soldier convicted of war crimes. His case was popularized — in the context of waterboarding — by Ted Kennedy. See this Washington Post article from 2006:
“Asano was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) told his colleagues last Thursday during the debate on military commissions legislation. “We punished people with 15 years of hard labor when waterboarding was used against Americans in World War II,” he said.
Not only was Asano not executed, but his 15-year sentence was for a host of crimes besides waterboarding. According to the U.C. Berkeley War Crimes center:
Docket Date: 53/ May 1 – 28, 1947, Yokohama, Japan
Charge: Violation of the Laws and Customs of War: 1. Did willfully and unlawfully mistreat and torture PWs. 2. Did unlawfully take and convert to his own use Red Cross packages and supplies intended for PWs.
Specifications: beating using hands, fists, club; kicking; water torture; burning using cigarettes; strapping on a stretcher head downward
So Asano beat people with clubs and burned them with cigarettes — and I think there’s no real debate about whether that consitutes torture. But wait, there’s more. Asano practiced a much more severe form of waterboarding, according to the Post:
Twenty-one years earlier, in 1947, the United States charged a Japanese officer, Yukio Asano, with war crimes for carrying out another form of waterboarding on a U.S. civilian. The subject was strapped on a stretcher that was tilted so that his feet were in the air and head near the floor, and small amounts of water were poured over his face, leaving him gasping for air until he agreed to talk.
In waterboarding as it is practiced by the U.S., cellophane or cloth is placed over the subject’s mouth to keep water out of nose and mouth. Asano was pouring water directly into the mouths and noses of subjects which is considerably more harsh and dangerous.
I don’t think that any of this settles the debate over whether waterboarding as it was practiced by the CIA is or is not torture, but Begala certainly doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And it’s certainly not accurate to say that the U.S. punished war ciminals from other countries for the same enhanced interrogation techniques we committed in the wake of 9/11.