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Voice of Experience: It's Torture
Military.com  |  By Bryant Jordan  |  November 05, 2007
While the Senate Judiciary Committee and U.S. Attorney General nominee Judge Michael Mukasey go around and around over the question of waterboarding and whether it constitutes torture, a man who has been there and done that has spoken out against the practice.
It’s torture, says Malcolm Nance, a counter-terrorism and intelligence consultant for the special operations, homeland security and intelligence agencies. Nance, writing for the Small Wars Journal website, called the debate over waterboarding "a crisis of honor."
And accepting it as a tool for interrogation, he says, does the United States no honor.
"As a former master instructor and chief of training at the U.S. Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School in San Diego ... I know the waterboard personally and intimately," he wrote. "I have personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people."
SERE, he wrote, is designed to show how "an evil totalitarian, enemy would use torture at the slightest whim. If this is the case, then waterboarding is unquestionably being used as torture technique."
Nance is among the latest, but not the first, former American service member to rap waterboarding and other aggressive questioning methods, which the administration calls “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
In 2005 a dozen retired general and flag officers wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee over the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to head the Justice Department. Gonzales, the former White House counsel, was linked to the so-called “torture memo” that effectively loosened the rules on interrogation and deemed that “enemy combatants” did not fall under the protections of the Geneva Conventions.
But the retired generals and admirals, among them retired Army Chief of Staff Gen. John Shalikashvili, slammed the policy.
"The United States’ commitment to the Geneva Conventions – the laws of war – flows not only from field experience, but also from the moral principles on which this country was founded, and by which we all continue to be guided," the group wrote. "We have learned first hand the value of adhering to the Geneva Conventions and practicing what we preach on the international stage."
Officially, the administration backed off the so-called torture memo, though reports that waterboarding continued to be used have persisted. In September, ABC News reported that Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, officially banned the use of waterboarding.
Now the practice is back in the debate, as senators initially seemed poised to approve Mukasey with all haste. But his response to questions about waterboarding has prompted some committee members to raise serious concerns, and has thrown his nomination in doubt.
But the aggressive interrogation methods do have their advocates, including President Bush and Vice President Cheney, who both recently defended the techniques in speeches -- Bush before a conservative Washington think tank and Cheney before a gathering of the American Legion in Indianapolis, Ind.
Referring to the issue being raised by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the president said: "Unfortunately, on too many issues, some in Congress are behaving as if America is not at war. ... The procedures used in this program are safe, they are lawful and they are necessary."
Cheney said the interrogation procedures "are designed to be safe, to be legal, and they are in full compliance with the nation's laws and treaty obligations. They've been carefully reviewed by the Department of Justice."
Cheney also maintained the techniques have brought out information that has "foiled attacks against the United States."
Nance, though, believes the United States loses a great deal by permitting such practices as waterboarding.
"I am bewildered at how casually we have thrown off the mantle of world-leader in justice and honor, who we have become," he wrote in his Small Wars Journal column. "Because at this juncture, after Abu Ghraeb and other undignified exposed incidents of murder and torture, we appear to have become no better than our opponents.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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