T Nation

The Case for Torturing Lt. Chase Nielsen



The Case for Torturing Lt. Chase Nielsen
Posted by Casey Khan at April 26, 2009 08:15 PM

Gene Healy brings up the ironically interesting torture case of the American Air Corps Lieutenant Chase Nielsen who testified against his Japanese captors on the horrors of waterboarding. Many of these captors were later hanged, and as such, Healy rightly quips "maybe we owe an apology to the Japanese soldiers we prosecuted."

Given the current state of American moral bearings, an apology to these Japanese torturers is the least we could do. After all, these soldiers of the Rising Sun were really just trying to defend their homeland, and gather intelligence from bomber crewmen like Lt. Nielsen. Lt. Nielsen was a navigator on a B-25, and as such would have had provided significant intelligence information to the Japanese.

Of course, while Japan had no idea that they were a few years away from being nuked by the Americans, their torture of the young navigator could have yielded all sorts of information that might have prevented the obliteration bombing and murder of Japan's two great Christian cities. Lt. Nielsen was later a part of "the first group to be organized, equipped and trained for atomic warfare" after World War II, therefore, he might have been privy as a young lieutenant to information on the Manhattan Project. Therefore, the soldier who tortured Nielsen was just a Japanese version of Jack Bauer, a patriotic samurai doing the best he could to save Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

So, if you're for interrogation torture, is it a universal ethic of torture? If so, then the Japanese were completely justified, since they were hit with more than one smoking gun mushroom cloud. Or is the torture ethic based solely on some tribal ideal where America can be made the exception? If the torture ethic is this second version, then history has a quaint way of making us look like hypocrites. If it is the first, I say we dig up the relics of the dead Japanese waterboarders, and make an offering to the torture gods, begging forgiveness, and praying for everlasting homeland protection. Nothing shores up a universal ethic quite like sanctification. Ridiculous? What the hell do you think torture is?


Duh! Amerika is ALWAYS the exception and if you don't think so...well, then you are just unAmerikan.

I can already see where this is going to go.


So let me get this straight - you're saying we should torture the good Mr. Healy? - I knew you'd come over to the good side!

I cannot believe you ran off to start another thread about this topic . . . now I have to repost all of my great commentary over here now . . . let the hilarity ensue.

OK - let's make the first point first - seems logical (wait, maybe I need some strawman arguments, a few articles from some "expert" writers . . nah)

First point - Water torture and the current technique of water boarding or about the same as the difference between being shot with .50 caliber rifle or a paintball marker. Yeah, you "might" be able to shoot out someone's eye with a paintball marker . . .but you can also shoot them thousands of times with little effect (I can personally vouch for this- having been a favorite target of my friends). However, there is never merely a bruising effect from a .50 cal slug.

Water torture involved the REAL threat of drowning - something the victim of this torture is very very very aware of as his head is being ducked repeatedly into a barrel water - it is the real threat of death and the inability to prevent it that makes this a true torture. Water boarding with a cloth over the face and 20 seconds of restricted breathing while medical personnel are on hand to minister to any slight water inhalation is a far far cry from the original practice. If you can't get that through your head - you need to find a new topic!!

OK - with that first point so masterfully laid out -let move to the asinine article you used to "prove" your warped perspective.

This is called an appeal to authority (think we've covered this ground before) - we can spend all day quoting other people who agree with us - that proves nothing!

Secondly - since the techniques and intentions differ so greatly - this is not comparing apples to apples - but cold-blooded killing to inconvenient annoyances! The Japanese (in addition to actually drowning pow's) broke bones, cut of hands, burned people alive, refused medical care, refused food and water and killed thousands of POW's - when you were taken in for interrogation by the Japanese - you KNEW it was VERY LIKELY that you would going to be KILLED - they had thousands of others they could get the info from - you were nothing!

Contrast that with KSM- he knows he is a high value prisoner, he knows we don't kill prisoners, he knows we have to keep him in good health, he knows we will not be breaking bones, stabbing him, electrocuting him, burning him, poisoning him, etc. WHY do you think it took over a hundred times for water boarding to elicit any information from him? Because it did not make him fear that we would actually kill him!

So - if the comparison does not hold up - then the conclusions are just as whack - this was really the best argument you had?

We do not owe apologies to the sadistic killers of the Rising Sun. These were very evil men who committed unspeakable horrors on fellow humans- what we do to our prisoners in comparison is the equivalent of a slap and tickle session with your favorite S&M gal.

Reminds me of this one time in Venezuala . . .never mind - with your mentality on this issue, you might try to have her arrested for that . . . .


That's different. They preemptively attacked us, the dirty cowards, and America would never do anything like that.


Irish, I think you are missing the point though. It is not a question of what constitute torture or not but rather whether anyone has the right to do anything physical to another human being at all.

If you can make the case for waterboarding then you can make the case for anything else. It's a completely semantical argument what constitutes torture.


yes we would. We invaded Afghanistan and Iraq preempti . . .oh you got me with the sarcasm . . .

Was there a point? Are you calling Americans cowards now?


Oh, that's a great line of reasoning . . . hmmm.

OK, the terrorists had no right to do anything physical to us, and we have no right to do anything physical to them . ... got it - I'm thinking very evil thoughts about all of the bad people in the world! That solves it all - we have no more worries. No one has the right to physically harm anyone else. Ta Duh! all of the wars are over, no more crime, no more evil.

Wow - and I thought I wasn't going to get anything productive done today . . .

Are you completely insane? - because if you are I want to know if the voices in your head play air hockey all night like mine do.

And now that you mention it - I could make the case for some real torture, but Rose promised she wouldn't hurt me like that again . . .

Let's start the response in a legal setting, What is an outlaw? - someone who has decided to act outside of the law - placing themselves beyond it's normal benefits and protections and putting them squarely into the realm of punishment. They act outside of the law and they are then bound to face the punishments of the law - that's how we justify doing something physical to criminals within a civilized society.

Now, in a combat scenario - a state or group of people resort to violence and murder to affect a change upon another state or group of people. They are not acting within the bounds of national or international law and have resorted to acting outside its normal benefits and protections and putting themselves squarely into the realm of counter-violence. That is what constitutes the rational framework of war.

Since they moved the area of interaction into the arena of violence, the responding state or group of people have to decide what bounds and strictures will apply to dealing with them. For instance, we have long ago determine that it is perfectly acceptable to kill enemy soldiers in war. Some nations have agreed to certain types of strictures on the treatment of POW's (geneva conventions). And as a nation we set certain guidelines on how we will treat people captured in war (this debate is part of that as well).

It is not a question of whether or not we have the right- the right was granted the moment the soldier takes up arms or the criminal violates the law.

The Japanese had the "right" to treat their prisoners as they sought fit - no matter how inhumane that may have been. We won, so we got to say that their treatment broke international law and those soldiers should be punished for their deeds. If Japan had won - it would have been up to the Japanese to determine if such conduct was in keeping with their standards and laws.

It seems strange to me that some have a problem with causing any level of discomfort to prisoners, when we have no problem with causing their horrible deaths on the battlefield. It's acceptable to shoot them and cause them to bleed to death, but not OK to deprive them of sleep, yell at them, slap them, etc.

If you want the standard of no torture - you should logically denounce war and disband our military immediately. It like calling bumping into someone while you stagger home drunk as being worse than running them over with your car while intoxicated.(oops there i go using bad analogies again).


Just illustrating that the standards we held ourselves and our enemies to in 1941 are not necessarily the same ones as we hold ourselves and our enemies to today.

We were morally outraged by a preemptive sneak attack on what was at the time one of our overseas naval bases (Hawaii was not yet a state), and by reports of water torture on our uniformed servicemen. The word most often used to describe the actions of the Japanese who perpetrated these acts was "cowardly."

Today, however, we invade and occupy sovereign nations, remove the sitting heads of state, and use the same type of water torture, not on uniformed soldiers, but on civilians whose role as combatants has not yet been confirmed.

Not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, just that it's kind of ironic, y'know what I mean?


I highly doubt Varq was being sarcastic.


Irish, I am not saying I am completely sane...but...

I do not trust any government to act justly on my behalf therefore I do not want them to act aggressively against anyone for any reason regardless of who was hurt first.

There is a difference between stopping an attack that has already been initiated and fake drowning someone to stop something that may or may not happen. It is always unacceptable to use aggression against someone. There are no ifs, ands, or buts in this matter. It is a black or white issue.

If you assert that our government has the right to capture and hold anyone it wants and commit physical abuse to extract information then any other country has that same right. Surely, you can see that some of the more unsavory governments around the world think the US is going to attack them and could use this same tactic to gain info from Americans, regardless of the persons level of involvement in a particular matter.


Well I stand corrected...I think.



I agree.


The attack upon Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 truly was a "sneak" attack, with no pre-text or provocation. To equate the 19 March 2003 invasion of Iraq as a "sneak" attack, or cowardly, is over reaching.

Whatever your views on OIF, and I choose not to debate them, Saddam Hussein violated at least ten previous UN Security Council Resolutions before UN Resolution 1441 in November 2002, offered him one final opportunity to comply.

The subsequent invasion four months later was one of the most telegraphed punches in military history, and offered the Iraqi armed forces months to prepare.

Additionally, Afghanistan and Iraq (from May 2003 until present) are counterinsurgencies; we do not have the luxury of fighting uniformed soldiers- so your statement that we waterboard civilians whose role as combatants has not been confirmed is also flawed.

My purpose is not to snipe, or cherry-pick your comments but rather insure correctness.


Not true. The US blocked trade with Japan and tried to intervene with their conflict in China.


No - I would have to disagree. The sneakiness of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was what shook up the US in 1941 - not it's preemption. They were making constant overtures of peace and then attacked without a declaration of war and amongst civilized nations this was considered horrible.

And I am so glad we get to discuss the invasion of Iraq.

First, let's dispense with the invasion of Afghanistan, first, we were invited by the legitimate ruling powers in Afghanistan. Second, we were chasing a specific enemy and Third, we declared our intention before we invaded. By those acts, we were neither sneaky - preemptive or occupying a sovereign nation.

Secondly, let's talk about Iraq. First off, Iraq was under a cease-fire agreement with the US negotiated at the end of the first Gulf War - HOSTILITIES had not ended - we were simply not engaged in active combat. Iraq had obligations to fulfill in order for us to not resort to completing what they had begun in 1991. They did not fulfill those cease-fire obligations, so WMDs or not, we had legitimate authority to dispose of the non-compliant government and to allow to Iraqi people to establish a better government. So it was not a preemptive attack. In the second place (as part of the first argument) - we had already declared war on Iraq - so it was not a sneaky attack.

Thirdly - as I have described multiple times at length on these boards - there are substantive differences between water torture and the technique we so rarely apply today. To equate the two techniques is to be willingly stupid.

Finally - The only individuals to ever undergo water boarding by our forces were 3 confirmed terrorist (non-state combatants). So we did not utilize this technique on non-combat civilians but on people who have specifically taken up arms against us.

I see no irony - I only see justice still blindfolded and now handcuffed . . .


Ahh - now you have taken the discussion out of context and moved it into the realm of the theoretical . . . hmmm.

Lot's of issues raised there: distrust of the government, refusal to allow govt to act on your behalf, punishing for killing versus preventing the killing in the first place, appropriate uses of force, rights of governments to act against citizens of other nations, rights of nations to self-defense, tit-for-tat interrogation policies, the old argument that if we do this to them, they will do worse (rather than the better, they are doing worse, let's do this to them), theories of violence raised within a racial context- my, oh my- I don't even know were to start with this one.

Vodka would be good . . . would you like to pick one particular line of discussion to pursue - or do you really want to endure my answers to all of these questions at once?


A pacifist? are you really a pacifist or one of those "debate" pacifist? I've never met a real pacifist.


The Brits, French, Dutch and Americans had colonies in Asia. Japan didn't like that and thought those territories should be under its rule. That's the "pre-text".

There is also the issue of American control over the Phillipines and the base in Hawaii, which happen to be quite close to Japan's homeland. That, along with the palpable tension between the two countries, and the embargo that deprived Japan of steel constitute the "provocation".

Contrast with Iraq, which had no military base anywhere remotely close to the US (in fact, it had no bases on foreign soil at all). Iraq had also a starving population, a deteriorating military (knocked down by two devastiting wars: Iraq-Iran and the Gulf War).

I'm not saying Japan had any ground to justify attacking Pearl Harbor, but it was many times more justifiable than the US attacking Iraq in 2003.

Security Council in which the USA holds a veto. If Iraq had a veto too, there would have been no resolutions to begin with.

In case you missed the point of the OP, it's about morality and holding yourself to the same standard as you hold others. In that regard, most everything that goes on in the UNSC is a joke.

Varq didn't describe the invasion of Iraq as a sneak attack. Don't put words in his mouth.

Yes. Prepare to be obliterated by the world's sole hyperpower.

No. It's an insurgency.

Watch Taxi To The Dark Side.

Nah. You just repeat the talking points from the Establishment in Washington.

"Correctness" is for historians to judge.


Oh no! If I said I was a pacifist then how could I say I have any right to my property or even my own life (which I claim I own)? Anyone who does not defend his own property is inherently claiming it is not his to defend. Even a toddler undestands property rights enough to know he must make a stand for what is, "mine!"

Every person has the responsibility to defend his own person and property. Morally, we should not imbue others to do it for us for then we have issues such as the ones we are raising here about torture, etc.

As a person who accepts anarchy as the natural order I must come to terms with the fact that others might try to do me harm and therefore I must take action to defend myself -- otherwise my claims of anarchy are baseless. There can be no pacifist anarchists.

(I will attempt to answer the other more difficult questions you raised a little later. I am pressed for time today.)


on second thought, never mind.

Point taken.