Stop Torture

The Harvard Anti-Torture Coalition

Archive for November, 2007

Is Foreign Waterboarding of Americans Illegal? Top State Dept Lawyer Won’t Say

Posted by stoptorture on 5th November 2007

Today, the Guardian, a British newspaper reports: “The top legal adviser within the US state department, who counsels the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, on international law, has declined to rule out the use of the interrogation technique known as waterboarding even if it were applied by foreign intelligence services on US citizens. John Bellinger refused to denounce the technique, which has been condemned by human rights groups as a form of torture, during a debate on the Bush administration’s stance on international law held by Guardian America, the Guardian’s US website. He said he would not include or exclude any technique without first considering whether it violated the convention on torture.” (emphasis added).

If this is not a wake up call for U.S. citizens, nothing is.  Talk about national security.  Do you feel safer?

There is still time.  Demand that the Senate vote down Mukasey.

Posted in Human Rights, International Law, Torture, U.S. Law | 6 Comments »

Waterboarding in History (Part II): Slavery in America–A lesson dedicated to Schumer and Feinstein

Posted by stoptorture on 4th November 2007

Narrative of Charles Ball, American slave, on waterboarding torture by a slave owner in Georgia:

SOURCE: Ball, Charles.  Fifty Years in Chains; or, The Life of an American Slave. New York: H. Dayton, 1859. (Read the full account here).

When I had been here about a week, my master came into the field one day, and, in passing near me, stopped and told me, that I had now fallen into good hands, as it was his practice not to whip his people much. That he, in truth, never whipped them, nor suffered his overseer to whip them, except in flagrant cases. That he had discovered a mode of punishment much more mild, and, at the same time, much more effectual, than flogging; and that he governed his negroes exclusively under this mode of discipline. He then told me, that when I came home in the evening, I must come to the house; and that he would then make me acquainted with the principles upon which he chastised his slaves.

Cover of Charles Ball's account of slavery in AmericaGoing to the house in the evening, according to orders, my master showed me a pump, set in a well in which the water rose within ten feet of the surface of the ground. The spout of this pump, was elevated at least thirteen feet above the earth, and when the water was to be drawn from it, the person who worked the handle ascended by a ladder to the proper station. The water in this well, although so near the surface, was very cold; and the pump discharged it in a large stream. One of the women employed in the house, had committed some offence for which she was to be punished; and the opportunity was embraced of exhibiting to me, the effect of this novel mode of torture upon the human frame. The woman was stripped quite naked, and tied to a post that stood just under the stream of water, as it fell from the spout of the pump. A lad was then ordered to ascend the ladder, and pump water upon the head and shoulders of the victim; who had not been under the waterfall more than a minute, before she began to cry and scream in a most lamentable manner. In a short time, she exerted her strength, in the most convulsive throes, in trying to escape from the post; but as the cords were strong, this was impossible. After another minute or a little more, her cries became weaker, and soon afterwards her head fell forward upon her breast; and then the boy was ordered to cease pumping the water. The woman was removed in a state of insensibility; but recovered her faculties in about an hour. The next morning she complained of lightness of head; but was able to go to work.

This punishment of the pump, as it is called, was never inflicted on me; and I am only able to describe it, as it has been described to me, by those who have endured it. When the water first strikes the head and arm, it is not at all painful; but in a very short time, it produces the sensation that is felt when heavy blows are inflicted with large rods, of the size of a man’s finger. This perception becomes more and more painful, until the skull bone and shoulder blades appear to be broken in pieces. Finally, all the faculties become oppressed; breathing becomes more and more difficult; until the eye-sight becomes dim, and animation ceases. This punishment is in fact a temporary murder; as all the pains are endured, that can be felt by a person who is deprived of life by being beaten with bludgeons;–but after the punishment of the pump, the sufferer is restored to existence by being laid in a bed, and covered with warm clothes. A giddiness of the head, and oppression of the breast, follows this operation, for a day or two, and sometimes longer. The object of calling me to be a witness of this new mode of torture, doubtlessly, was was to intimidate me from running away; but like medicines administered by empirics, the spectacle had precisely the opposite effect, from that which it was expected to produce.

After my arrival on this estate, my intention had been to defer my elopement until the next year, before I had seen the torture inflicted on this unfortunate woman; but from that moment my resolution was unalterably fixed, to escape as quickly as possible. Such was my desperation of feeling, at this time, that I deliberated seriously upon the project of endeavouring to make my way southward, for the purpose of joining the Indians in Florida. Fortune reserved a more agreeable fate for me.


[UPDATE: See more on waterboarding in history at:]

Posted in Human Rights, Torture | 22 Comments »

Waterboarding in History (Part I): Brazil’s Dictators–A lesson dedicated to Schumer and Feinstein

Posted by stoptorture on 4th November 2007


Brasil: Nunca Mais is a study of state repression during the Brazilian military dictatorship from 1964-1985. Undertaken clandestinely by a team of lawyers, clergymen, and others, the study is based entirely on the Brazilian government’s own records of interrogations, disappearances, and other operations taken on in the name of national security. The documents were photocopied secretly until the archives of the Supreme Military Tribunal were reproduced. To date, the identity of many of the project’s participants is unknown. The book was first published in 1985, the final year of the Brazilian dictatorship. It is an abridged version of the complete work, which is over 5,000 pages long.

The Brazilian dictatorship opened Pandora’s Box on officially-sanctioned torture in 1964. Torture remains widespread and systematic in Brazil to this day.[2]


Preface by Cardinal Arns, Archbishop of São Paulo (May 3, 1985)

4. What has most impressed me throughout the years of my vigilance against torture is, however, the following: how the very torturers degrade themselves.

Chapter 2: The methods and instruments of torture

So states article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights signed by Brazil: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

In twenty years of Military Government, this principle was ignored by Brazilian authorities. Our study revealed nearly one hundred different torture techniques–using physical aggression and psychological pressure–and with the most varied of instruments applied on Brazilian political prisoners. Court documents reveal in rich detail this criminal activity done under the auspices of the State. The depositions, here partially transcribed, demonstrate the principal methods and instruments of torture adopted by the repression in Brazil.

The parrot’s perch

“… The parrot’s perch consists of an iron bar that is introduced between the bound wrists and the bends of the knees; that ‘arrangment’ is placed between two tables and the body of the tortured remains hanging 20 or 30 centimeters above the floor. This method is almost never used in isolation; its usual ‘complements’ are electroshocks, the wooden bat or club, and the drowning [waterboarding]…”[3] (emphasis added).

The drowning [waterboarding] (emphasis added)

“…The drowning is one of the ‘complements’ of the parrot’s perch. A small rubber tube is introduced into the mouth of the tortured and water then follows…”[4]

“…, and had introduced into his nostrils, into his mouth, a hose of running water, which he was forced to breathe in each time he received a charge of electric shocks;…”[5]

“drowning by means of a wet towel in the mouth: when one has almost stopped breathing, one receives a jet of water in the nostrils;…”[6]

Chapter 3: The torture of children, women, and pregnant women


[1] Brasil: Nunca Mais [Brazil: Never Again]. 34th Ed., Petropolis: Editora Vozes, 2005. (Originally published by the Archdiocese of São Paulo in 1985. [Translation by Stop Torture.]

[2] See U.N. Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights, 57th sess., agenda item 11(a), Report of the Special Rapporteur, Sir Nigel Rodley, Submitted Pursuant to Commission on Human Rights Resolution 2000/43, Addendum: Visit to Brazil, U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/2001/Add.2 (2001).

[3] Augusto César Salles Galvão, student, 21 years old, Belo Horizonte; handwritten letter, 1970: BNM no. 150, V. 2, p. 448-450.

[4] Supra note 2.

[5] José Milton Ferreira de Almeida, engineer, 31 years old, Rio de Janeiro; identification and interrogation deposition, 1976: BNM no. 43, V. 2, p. 421-430.

[6] Leonardo Valentini, steelworker, 22 years old, Rio de Janeiro; identification and interrogation deposition, 1973: BNM 75, V. 5o, p. 1277.

Posted in Human Rights, Torture | 17 Comments »

Senators Schumer and Feinstein Sell Out on Torture

Posted by stoptorture on 2nd November 2007

Senators Schumer (NY) and Feinstein (CA) have decided to sell out to torture and back Mukasey for attorney general, the AP has reported. This ensures Mukasey has the votes to pass the Senate Judiciary Committee and go to the full Senate floor, where he is widely expected to be confirmed.

One wonders what benefits the Democrats ever gain from standing by their party. Schumer and Feinstein deserve to be boycotted at the next elections. That might teach them what “voting with your conscience” means.

Of course, a lone senator could still pull through and serve as the national conscience. Leahy could hold the nomination in committee indefinitely, for example. Or a senator could put a “hold” on Mukasey’s nomination. For instance, Durbin has a hold on the nomination of Steven Bradbury, author of the new torture memos. Senate majority leader Harry Reid could also refuse to schedule Mukasey’s vote. Perhaps, a senator could even filibuster.

There are ways for a single senator with a shocked conscience to stop this train, but we do not have much hope in that. As a nation, we have sold out to torture yet again. When will we ever stop?

Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Posted in Human Rights, International Law, Torture, U.S. Law | 13 Comments »


Posted by stoptorture on 1st November 2007

From the Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights:


“The reason we don’t have an attorney general…is because the last one broke the law, and this one refuses to say torture is torture.” –Richard Clarke, former U.S. counterterrorism chief, speech before the Massachusetts Bar Association (Nov. 1, 2007)

Dear Friends,

Michael Mukasey, the man who wants to be our next attorney general, refuses to say that waterboarding is torture. Waterboarding dates from the time of the Spanish Inquisition. It is an ancient torture technique of repeated partial drowning. Water is forced into the prisoner’s lungs until he or she nears the point of death by drowning. The prisoners are then pulled back from the brink — usually. Waterboarding is torture, and torture is unconstitutional. All four of the top lawyers in the military unequivocally agree (see links at the bottom).

We need your help. Please take 30 seconds today to call your senators today and tell them to vote “NO” on Mukasey’s confirmation as attorney general [see senate phone numbers below]. The vote is on Tuesday, so please call your senators now! Without exaggeration, this is the best chance in years to take a stand against torture.

Senators from the key states of New York, California, Wisconsin, and Maryland are undecided.

The stakes are high — the Senate can stop Mukasey’s nomination. But if the Senate fails to act, it may well do the opposite, tacitly endorsing the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture. At Mukasey’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Richard Durbin, (D-IL), explained to Mukasey that the United States has prosecuted waterboarding as a war crime for more than a century. But Mukasey wouldn’t budge. This country cannot stand for yet another attorney general who doesn’t know right from wrong, who can’t state clearly what the laws and history of this country already make clear, who will not renounce torture.

Just two weeks ago, Mukasey’s confirmation looked like a sure thing. But his refusal to say whether waterboarding is torture has cast a dark shadow on his prospects. This turnaround was possible thanks to the pressure of voters like you. Since then, senators from both parties have called on Mukasey to clarify his position, but he has clung to an evasive answer. In a written response, Mukasey dismissed the controversy as “academic” and with “scant practical effect or value.” [For more information about waterboarding, its reported use by the U.S., and Mukasey’s letter on it, please see the links at the end of this e-mail].

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on sending Mukasey’s nomination to the full Senate this Tuesday, Nov. 6. But if the Committee votes “NO” on Mukasey, his nomination to the post of attorney general will likely fail.

Please take 30 seconds today to call your senators and tell them to vote “NO” on Mukasey’s confirmation.

Thank you for your help and for taking a stand against torture.


[Note: Mukasey’s name is pronounced “mew-CASEY.”]
1. Good morning/afternoon.

2. My name is ______________________.

3. I am a [optional: affiliation/occupation] and a constituent of Senator ____________.

4. I live at [your full address with ZIP — this information is very important to show that you are a voter—they do not use your address for anything else or pass it on ].

5. I’m calling to urge the senator to vote “NO” on Michael Mukasey’s confirmation as attorney general because I’m concerned about the issue of torture.

6. Waterboarding is torture, and it is a crime. If Mr. Mukasey can’t say that, he shouldn’t be attorney general.

7. The senator must not endorse Mr. Mukasey’s views on waterboarding by supporting his confirmation.

8. Thank you for your time.

KEY SENATORS ON THE ISSUE (these are members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who are undecided/swing voters)

* New York — Sen. Schumer (D) — (202) 224-6542 [*KEY*]

* California — Sen. Feinstein (D) — (202) 224-3841 [*KEY*]

* Wisconsin — Sen. Kohl (D) — (202) 224-5653

* Maryland — Sen. Cardin (D) — (202) 224-4524

* Wisconsin — Sen. Feingold (D) — (202) 224-5323

* Pennsylvania — Sen. Specter (R) — (202) 224-4254

* South Carolina — Sen. Graham (R) — (202) 224-5972

SENATORS WHO HAVE SAID THEY WILL VOTE AGAINST MUKASEY (please call them, thank them for their support, and urge them to filibuster if necessary)

* Vermont — Sen. Leahy (D) — (202) 224-4242

* Delaware– Sen. Biden (D) — (202) 224-5042

* Illinois– Sen. Durbin (D) — (202) 224-2152

* Massachusetts — Sen. Kennedy (D) –– (202) 224-4543

* Rhode Island — Sen. Whitehouse (D) –– (202) 224-2921


Please see the single-page Senate directory:


Harvard Law School faculty letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on waterboarding:

New York Times frontpage coverage on the waterboarding controversy, Nov. 1, 2007:

Michael Mukasey’s response to Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats:

Human rights groups’ letter explaining that all four of the top lawyers in the military unequivocally agree that waterboarding is torture:


Posted in Activism, Human Rights, International Law, Torture, U.S. Law | 14 Comments »