Tag: William Howard Taft

Torture and “Inevitable Demoralization,” from 1902 to the Present

Paul Kramer at The New Yorker has written a fascinating look at the use of torture by U.S. troops in the Philippine-American War, 1899-1902. Back then, the U.S. was accused of using the infamous “water cure” upon Philippine “insurgents.” A then-atypical confession by pro-war Judge Wiliam Howard Taft, head of the pro-U.S. Philippine Commission, described the technique:

The cruelties that have been inflicted; that people have been shot when they ought not to have been; that there have been in individual instances of water cure, that torture which I believe involves pouring water down the throat so that the man swells and gets the impression that he is going to be suffocated and then tells what he knows, which was a frequent treatment under the Spaniards, I am told-all these things are true.

Kramer’s article describes the political maneuvering around the torture scandal of that time, in ways that are eerily similar to today’s debates. What’s different, of course, is that other, more psychological forms of torture have been added since those early days of American imperialist wars. (Over 4,000 U.S. soldiers died in the conflict, and total Philippine deaths, both military and civilian, are estimated to be between a quarter of a million to one million people. It’s worth noting that U.S. military activities against Philippine “insurgents” or “brigands” continued until at least 1913.)