What's It Like to be Waterboarded? This Is How It Was When We Tried It in the Philippines.Historians/History
tags: torture, Spanish-American War
The 1899 invasion and occupation of the Philippines was conducted under the banner of something the U. S. Government called “benevolent assimilation,” but the assimilation was hardly benevolent – and American forces for the first time used water boarding as a method of interrogation. The following is excerpted from William Schroder’s 2004 historical novel, "Cousins of Color."
The men of H Company didn’t know the water cure, but Captain Baston’s Kansas volunteers did. In no time, the camp came alive with activity. Three men carrying ropes scurried up the rock ledge to the edge of the outcropping high over the mouth of the cave. Reaching the top, they dropped the lines down to men waiting below. The soldiers built a sling, placed an empty sixty-gallon barrel in it, and then hoisted the barrel up and positioned it on the highest spot they could find.
The sergeant and two others stripped the boy and staked him out on his back, the barrel twenty feet over his head. The rest of the men formed a chain and passed buckets of water from the nearby stream up the line and fed the barrel until full. This done, a soldier attached a long hose to the spigot at the bottom of the barrel and tossed the other end to the sergeant below.
Captain Baston shook the amputee awake, and then dragged him to the mouth of the cave near where the boy was pegged down. He’d lost a lot of blood from his stump, and his face was pale and drawn tight with pain. The captain knelt in front of him, while a soldier fisted a handful of hair and raised his head. “I would like to know your name,” the captain said.
The man croaked, “Antonio Salud.”
“Tell me where Aguinaldo is, Mr. Salud, and you will save this boy’s life.”
The man looked down at the boy on the ground next to him. “He is my nephew, Captain. I beg you to let him live.”
Baston shrugged. “His life is not in my hands, it’s in yours. I want Aguinaldo, not you or this boy.”
Antonio Salud pleaded through his tears, “I cannot tell you what I do not know, sir.”
Captain Baston stood and turned to the sergeant. “Proceed.”
The sergeant placed one of his big hands under the boy’s neck and lifted his head. Another soldier pried his jaws open, while a third jammed the rubber hose deep into his throat. The young Filipino screamed in horror and struggled desperately against the ropes that held his arms and legs.
“Lay still, you slope-headed gook bastard,” the soldier cursed and shoved the hose deeper. The boy wretched and coughed blood, tried to turn away from his tormentors. When the hose would go no farther, the soldier looked up at the captain. “Ready, sir.”
Baston gave a signal to the men on the rock outcropping over the cave, and one reached down and opened the spigot.
In the moments that followed, a strange silence settled over the camp. The only sounds were the popping and hissing of the fire, its flames lighting the faces of Captain Baston and the men, as all eyes followed the invisible flow of water through the hose from the barrel high overhead down to the boy on the ground. For a long moment, nothing happened. Fagen wondered whether something had gone wrong. Maybe they’d made a mistake somewhere. Even the boy had stopped struggling against the hose, although his eyes still darted in panic from one soldier to the next.
Then it happened. The sergeant saw it first and smiled up at the captain. The rush of flowing water suddenly reached the boy’s stomach and forced his mid-section to swell and grow, and then become so grotesquely extended it looked ready to burst. The boy let out a wild, animal scream, his face turned blue, and his eyes bulged as yellow water gushed from his nose. His stomach grew to four times its normal size, and still the water continued to flow.
Fagen was sure the boy would drown in his own bile, but somehow he stayed alive. Another minute passed. Fagen thought then the boy must have been driven insane. He’d stopped struggling against the ropes, but his eyes had rolled up in his head, and his body twitched and flopped like a fish out of water.
Finally, the captain gave a signal, and the sergeant pulled the hose from the young rebel’s throat. Baston squatted alongside the boy for a moment, and then turned to the amputee and said, “Mr. Salud, are you willing to let this boy die? By the looks of him, I’d guess you have another ten seconds to decide, and I should warn you, if he dies, you’re next.”
The amputee looked up at the captain through tears of shock and pain. “Please, no more. I beg you for mercy. I will tell you. Aguinaldo has a jungle camp, like this one, three days northeast of San Isidro near the big waterfalls. I think that is where he has gone.”
“Well done, Mr. Salud.” Captain Baston smiled, and then with a little flourish said, “Now observe while I bestow the gift of life on this young man.”
The captain rocked forward and pressed both knees deep into the boy’s bloated stomach. The youth’s choked, agonized screams filled the night and echoed through the jungle mountains, as a torrent of water gushed from his nose and mouth. The captain pressed harder, bloody vomit pooling around him. Then, he let up for a moment and looked around. As the boy choked and struggled for air, the officer stood up and motioned to one of his men, “Finish this,” he said. “I’ve got what I wanted.” Then he walked casually into his tent and closed the flap.
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