Democrats “Wary” of Military Commissions Compromise

That’s what Reuters says: “U.S. Democrats wary of detainee trials compromise”. Yes, I’ll bet they’re wary–wary of having to take a position between now and November.

Some of them are already denouncing the Republicans’ compromise, but I doubt that any Democrat in a tough re-election race will do that. Byron York’s analysis of the compromise is still the most coherent one I’ve seen; I think we’ve linked to it before, but read it now if you haven’t already. One thing is clear: this topic hasn’t gone away. There is no consensus on whether the compromise does or does not permit waterboarding of detainees to continue. I read somewhere (I’d link if I could find it quickly) that waterboarding was the interrogation technique that broke every high-level detainee but one. (The one exception, according to that report, was an al Qaeda leader who was taken to see Khalid Sheik Mohammed in his cell, and required no further persuasion.) So whether our interrogators can continue to use this highly effective technique is, I think, a very big deal. Waterboarding is denounced by critics as a form of torture. In fact, though, it is harmless, and we reportedly waterboard our own military pilots to acquaint them with the sensation of drowning after they bail out of an airplane.

“It’s OK for our pilots, but too cruel for Khalid Sheik Mohammed!” If that’s the Democrats’ platform for November, they could be in trouble. No wonder they’re wary!

Via Power Line News.

UPDATE: A former Navy pilot writes to confirm that waterboarding is indeed used in training our pilots, although for a different purpose than I understood. Note, too, that several of the other techniques the administration is trying to preserve, which are routinely referred to as “torture” in the press, are used in training our own military personnel:

I was a navy pilot, west coast fighter squadron at Miramar. New pilots, and others that may be captured, go through SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) School. The last part of the school consists of a simulated prisoner of war camp. Slapping and general roughness, cold conditions, sleep deprivation are all utilized. Also, if you are caught trying to escape, or just for experience, you will get the waterboard. As far as I know, only west coast navy personnel were exposed to this, but I would imagine others were as well. It is not to get pilots exposed to the sensation of drowning in an airplane.The purpose is to be exposed to techniques which may be encountered in a prisoner status. You are placed on your back, face up and strapped or held in position. Water is poured on your face. You tend to spit out water and air…sometimes coughing uncontrollably…when you have almost exhaled completely, an airtight rag is placed over your mouth and nose so that you can not inhale. A doctor is present, I was told, to ensure you are not harmed. You are held until you almost pass out. It is EXTREMELY unpleasant and effective. I hope this explains it. It should be used against terrorist subjects.Keep up the fight!

There is room for legitimate disagreement about when interrogation techniques may become too harsh. But I think an easy standard to apply is that if we do it to our own troops in training, we ought to be able to do it to the leaders of al Qaeda.

MORE: Another former Navy pilot writes:

Military use of the Waterboard has nothing to do with “bailing out into the water” – that’s done with the Dilbert Dunker (like in “Officer and a Gentlemen”). The Waterboard is used as a safe (but TERRIBLY effective) way of SIMULATING torture in POW training (scuttlebutt was always that one, of the two to three people administering the Waterboard, was a Doctor or Corpsman in disguise). As a former Navy fighter pilot, I was put on the Waterboard in February 1973 – and it was an experience I never wanted to repeat. According to Mort Kondrake last week on Brit Hume’s show, it’s been administered as simulated torture to tens of thousands of military aircrews over the years, and “everyone cracks”. I had never thought of us using it on the enemy. Brilliant idea – I’m not surprised that it worked well!

STILL MORE: From another former pilot:

During the Resistence phase of training–the most dreaded training many of us would ever undergo–we would be locked up in little black boxes, then pulled out for waterboarding. Or pulled out to watch our squadron mates be waterboarded while under interrogation.

Also, while stuck in these black boxes, under conditions of extreme hunger and thirst (we had spent the previous days foraging for survival), the camp guards played the most excruciating ugly Vietnamese music. I thought about this years later when I learned that our Army psy-ops specialists had blasted American hard rock music at Noriega while he was holed up in his presidential palace. This sort of thing is incredibly effective.

The experience of being drowned comes in the Dilbert Dunker, a contraption similar to a cockpit. Flight crews are strapped into the Dilbert Dunker, then submerged upside down in a pool of water, and told to escape as quickly as possible. It’s no great feat to do so, but some people panic and lose their capacity to function. (So divers are always stationed in the pool ready to extract people who need their assistance.) Not a quality you want in combat flight crews.

The whole debate over waterboarding always struck a lot of who had gone through this training as overwrought. Why should terrorists be exempt from the very thing our military subjects its own people to?

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