SCARBOROUGH — Referring to Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s “torture report,” independent Sen. Angus King of Maine says, “We did things that we tried Japanese prisoners for war crimes after World War II.” Columnist Mike Tipping (“Sen. King puts CIA torture debate in moral, historical context”) wrote Jan. 24 that “This statement (King’s) stuck with me.”

First of all, Sen. Feinstein’s report is highly partisan and incomplete: Key personnel involved in the interrogations were never interviewed.

And Sen. King’s statement that “The torture did not create actionable intelligence” was contradicted by former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta and numerous other on-the-scene officials.

The CIA repeatedly went to the Department of Justice for guidance, and it briefed high-level congressional members of the Intelligence Committee about the program. Those briefed include Democratic U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, though she now denies it.


The most extreme interrogations involved waterboarding, administered to only three high-level detainees, none of whom died or suffered disabling physical or psychological injury.

As a young World War II officer-in-training, I was subjected to similar but less harsh unauthorized treatment to test my mettle, with no negative effects. But I do not condone such treatment of other human beings except under in extremis, last-resort circumstances, as in this “moment of truth” hypothetical scenario:

We have just captured a known terrorist whose accomplice has hidden a nuclear weapon in the center of a nearby city. The bomb is set to detonate in 24 hours if not located before then and defused.

But the terrorist has refused to divulge the location of the bomb despite prolonged and patient questioning by experienced negotiators. Do we let the bomb explode, killing tens of thousands of people and reducing the city to rubble, or do we waterboard him?

We now either kill suspected terrorists by drone – maybe innocent others, too – or prosecute them after reading them their Miranda (or equivalent) rights without interrogating them to extract useful information.

There is still some disagreement as to whether non-state “unlawful combatants,” who do not wear uniforms, carry arms openly or answer to a chain of command, qualify for top-level Geneva Convention prisoner protections. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2006 (five years after 9/11) that whatever their status (detainees), they are entitled to minimum protections.

Back to the statement by Sen. King. We, the United States – the last, best hope of mankind – did not try Japanese soldiers after World War II for inflicting such relatively minor abuses or pain such as slapping, stress positions, sleep deprivation and, in three cases, waterboarding.


No, we tried and executed Gen. Matasaru Homma, commander of Japanese forces in the Philippines, for, among other atrocities, the 1942 Bataan Death March, during which 76,000 prisoners (12,000 Americans, the remainder Filipinos) were force-marched 60 miles in a blazing sun along a route of death.

The ordeal lasted from five to 12 days. Many prisoners were bayoneted, shot, beheaded or left to die on the side of the road. One survivor recalled: “A Japanese soldier took my canteen, gave the water to a horse and threw the canteen away. The stronger were not permitted to help the weaker. Some went crazy.” Some 5,200 Americans died along the way.

Shortly after the Pacific War ended, the ship on which I served picked up and transported to San Francisco emaciated and sickly survivors of the 5th Division, North China U.S. Marines, who had been confined in the notorious Bilibid prison in Manila.

Most of these men were walking skeletons. On an earlier voyage, we transported Japanese prisoners from Guam to Hawaii. They were treated humanely. I have photographs depicting their on-board activities.

Mr. Tipping may want to add to his reading list “The Rape of Nanking,” by Iris Chang, which documents the single worst atrocity of the pre-World War II era: the Japanese butchery of an estimated 150,000 Chinese male soldiers, 50,000 male civilians, the rape of 80,000 women and the burning of Nanking.

Tipping writes that “Some would say that we excessively romanticize the Second World War, and I agree.” In the present comfort and security of his home and without the wisdom of experience, just what does Mr. Tipping find too “romantic” about World War II?

I can’t imagine a conflict – 60 million to 72 million worldwide deaths – in which the moral issues were more clearly defined.