We made a mistake the other day when Paul Begala left Ari Fleischer dumbstruck by saying:
BEGALA: We -- our country executed Japanese soldiers who water- boarded American POWs. We executed them for the same crime that we are now committing ourselves. How do you defend that?
We chided Begala slightly because we thought he wasn't quite right on the facts:
Actually, Fleischer could have countered Begala by pointing out that we didn't actually execute the Japanese soldiers convicted of the war crime of waterboarding American prisoners -- we just sentenced them to 15 years' hard labor.
But I was not referring to Asano, nor was my source Sen. Kennedy. Instead I was referencing the statement of a different member of the Senate: John McCain. On November 29, 2007, Sen. McCain, while campaigning in St. Petersburg, Florida, said, "Following World War II war crime trials were convened. The Japanese were tried and convicted and hung for war crimes committed against American POWs. Among those charges for which they were convicted was waterboarding."
Sen. McCain was right and the National Review Online is wrong. Politifact, the St. Petersburg Times' truth-testing project (which this week was awarded a Pulitzer Prize), scrutinized Sen. McCain's statement and found it to be true. Here's the money quote from Politifact:
"McCain is referencing the Tokyo Trials, officially known as the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. After World War II, an international coalition convened to prosecute Japanese soldiers charged with torture. At the top of the list of techniques was water-based interrogation, known variously then as 'water cure,' 'water torture' and 'waterboarding,' according to the charging documents. It simulates drowning." Politifact went on to report, "A number of the Japanese soldiers convicted by American judges were hanged, while others received lengthy prison sentences or time in labor camps."
The folks at Politifact interviewed R. John Pritchard, the author of The Tokyo War Crimes Trial: The Complete Transcripts of the Proceedings of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. They also interviewed Yuma Totani, history professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, and consulted the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, which published a law review article entitled, "Drop by Drop: Forgetting the History of Water Torture in U.S. Courts."
We apologize to Begala for the error.
We'll be waiting a long time, I expect, for all those right-wingers out there who claim waterboarding isn't torture to apologize to the world.