Friday, May 01, 2009

Historian D’Este On Churchill And Torture

Historian Carlo D’Este, whose works include outstanding biographies of Patton and Eisenhower and the recently released Warlord: A Life of Winston Churchill at War, 1894-1945, comments today in the Times of London - - -

The question of torture as a legitimate tool in the War on Terror has become an explosive issue, with the likes of Dick Cheney, the former US Vice-President, arguing for it and President Obama rejecting it, citing Winston Churchill as an example of someone of who would not have condoned its use.

Mr Cheney was a Vietnam draft-dodger while Churchill was a former soldier who understood what it was like to be a prisoner of war.

In 1898 Churchill narrowly escaped death on the sands of Omdurman, Sudan. He saw first-hand the terrible agony of enemy warriors left to die in the hot sun and was hugely critical of the British commander, General Horatio Kitchener.

“I am not squeamish but I have seen acts of great barbarity perpetrated at Omdurman,” he wrote, “and have been thoroughly sickened of human blood.”

As a war correspondent during the Boer War he was captured and imprisoned in Pretoria. Although well treated, he was horrified by the loss of his liberty and made a daring escape.

Churchill was ruthless in prosecuting the Second World War with strategic bombing of German cities but there is nothing in his behaviour or character to suggest that he would have condoned water boarding or other means of torture.

My comments:

I wish D’Este had said whether he thought Britain’s WW II policy of giving captured spies a choice of fully cooperating or facing secret trial and certain hanging within 24 hours constituted torture.

At the time of WW II the policy would certainly not have been called "torture" by all but a very few.

If America adopted an identical policy for treating captured Al Qaeda operatives, would D’Este consider such a policy "torture?"

President Obama should be asked whether he would approve such a policy or reject it as torture.

Look for another post tomorrow concerning Obama’s press conference assertions about Churchill, Britain and torture.

Previous post on this subject:

Obama, Churchill And Torture - - 4/30/09


Expat(ish) said...

He lost me when he compared Dick Cheney, a man with 20+ years of honorable political service to his country and 15+ years growing high paying blue collar jobs as a "Vietnam draft dodger."

Cheney had, famously, five draft deferments.

I cannot comment historically on "did Churchill know" or "was it rogue elements" but I would bet a LOT of money that Churchill was very aware that some of the intel he received came from captured officers who were seriously maltreated.


Anonymous said...

The firebombing of Hamburg and Dresden by US/UK bombers was planned by Air Marshal "Bomber" Harris (in the RAF, known as "Butcher" Harris). Churchill and Roosevelt were completely knowledgable and approved of these raids. One of the counts against Goering was of ordering the bombing of Coventry (nowhere near as horrifying as Hamburg or Dresden).
Of course, because the Germans were the losing party, there were no US or UK defendants in the dock at Nurenberg. If the victorious allies were of a similar mindset as our esteemed Commander-in-Chief, (aka: the "Reader of the Free World") Churchill and Harris and possibly Eisenhower would have been prosecuted along with Himmler, Goering, et al.
It is damnably difficult to conduct a war these days with the ACLU and looking over your shoulder.
Incidentally, may I call your attention to these provisions of the Geneva Conventions:

Article 2 specifies which parties are bound, and under what circumstances.
• That any armed conflict between two or more "High Contracting Parties" is covered;

• That the relationship between the "High Contracting Parties" and a non-signatory, the party will remain bound until the non-signatory no longer acts under the strictures of the convention. "...Although one of the Powers in conflict may not be a party to the present Convention, the Powers who are parties thereto shall remain bound by it in their mutual relations. They shall furthermore be bound by the Convention in relation to the said Power, if the latter accepts and applies the provisions thereof."
Just to make it clear, the U.S. is a "High Contracting Party" and al Qaeda is a "non-signatory." Thus, since al Qaeda does not act under the strictures of the conventions, they are not entitled to its protections.
I know BHO is a lawyer and allegedly a constitutional scholar, but apparently he can't read and understand what the Geneva Conventions say. I have no doubt in my mind that none of the raggies we scoop up are entitled to the protection of our constitution, either.
Tarheel Hawkeye

Anonymous said...

if offering a spy a choice between death or cooperation didn't meet the generally accepted "torture" standards of the time then it wasn't torture.

the main idea is don't do to the other guy that which you would find unacceptable when done to you. the Brits I am sure fully expected their own spies would get, at the least, the same firing squad treatment.

it would be important to churchill not to stoop as low or lower than the Nazis, no matter how they behaved to british prisoners, and I think he achieved that. Obama is echoing that sentiment.