When there has been a surprise attack of deadly force, America has reacted quickly with efforts of self defense. Protection of its citizens is a responsibility of utmost concern. How then to protect American citizens, is a paramount next question.
I talked with Lt. Col. Darrel J. Vandeveld (Ret.) after his lecture at Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania on April 27. Vandeveld was formerly a prosecuting attorney at the Guantanamo, Cuba, internment facility. I asked him why America initiated such severe interrogation procedures.
"It was probably an overreaction to a heinous nation-threatening event. No one wanted another 9/11-type attack," he concluded.
In 1942, thousands of Japanese Americans who lived in coastal Washington, Oregon and California were forced to move hundreds of miles inland as a precaution against traitorous behavior in the event of a Japanese military incursion of America's mainland. In retrospect, it seems unlikely that a landing of even five saboteurs could have been sustained across 6,000 miles of the Pacific Ocean. At the time, however, it was a real issue. As it turned out, there was not a single act of treachery among the Japanese American citizens.
To the contrary, many of the Japanese men enlisted in the U.S. military and served with pride in the European Theater of Operations. One Japanese American, Daniel K. Inouye, a resident of Hawaii, received a Congressional Medal of Honor and currently serves in the U.S. Senate.
In time, all the Japanese evacuees were invited to return to their original home sites along the Pacific coast. Apologies and reparations were made years later.
Vandeveld, an accomplished scholar, attorney and decorated combat veteran in Iraq and Afghanistan, requested a transfer to Guantanamo. He became as vigorous a prosecuting attorney as he had been a former combatant.
He became aware of the interrogation procedures by being on site and reading the documentation. Waterboarding, sleep deprivation, wall slamming and other interrogating methods used to extract information from the internees was heavy stuff. A common political definition of what may be torture still eludes us.
Prisoners captured in the heat of combat during World War II were sometimes shot and killed on the way to internment "while trying to escape" because there was no effective way to keep the prisoners under control in the heat of a life and death battle. "That was illegal and immoral," several combat veterans have told me, "but sometimes you have to do what you have to do to stay alive and do the job you are assigned to do."
Waterboarding simulates drowning. Each episode did not take long, a matter of seconds on the clock. Medical signs were monitored. One detainee was waterboarded 183 times without revealing any information. "After a while, the detainee might, if he still retained any sanity, get the idea he was not going to die," Vandeveld said. Still worse, Vandeveld said, was using procedures on men, even boys, who were possibly innocent.
Our self defense can be a challenging dilemma - how to get a dirty job of interrogation done for the safety of others in a manner that represents the best of our national values. If America does not employ methods more sensitive to the dignity of people, how are we better than our enemy? Might seems to make right, captives have been victims of their captors. That has been the way of the world. International and U.S. laws, however, have been established for years to prohibit torturous treatment. Under times of severe threat of hostile attack, the presidential powers can set aside certain civil liberties, especial regarding non-Americans who do not represent a recognized nation.
Vandeveld said he resigned in September 2008 as a Guantanamo prosecutor because his superior officers suppressed evidence that could have cleared clients. He was the fourth Guantanamo military prosecutor to step down.
A friend who is an adjunct professor at W&J invited my wife and me to hear this first-hand report by Lt. Col. Vandeveld. Vandeveld is now out of the Army and serving as a deputy attorney general for the Bureau of Consumer Protection in Erie.
Editor's note:?Bruce Thomas' column appears every third Friday on the Prime Time page.