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Today many of us are making a last minute phone assault on our Senators' offices to fight the torture bill. Need inspiration? Let me offer the stories of Claire Phillips and Margaret Utinsky, two American women who found themselves part of the American insurgency in the Japanese-occupied Phillippines from 1942-1945. Their tireless and dangerous work saved thousands of American lives. Their brutal  treatment at the hands of the Japanese military police sounds remarkably like what Bush and his fellows call "aggressive questioning," not torture.
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What Margaret Utinksy and Claire Phillips experienced was immoral. It was inhumane. It was also completely ineffective. If two ordinary American women (with no special training) can resist waterboarding, strappado, and other mental and physical agony, then how effective can torture be?  Read the story of these American heroines and then decide if you want this kind of  torture "coercive questioning " done in your name, by agents of the United States.

Cross-posted at Progressive Historians.

Manila, 1942-45
Claire Phillips was an singer, not a spy. She'd arrived in Manila in September 1941, looking for a fresh start as a torch singer in one of the city's many clubs. On the rebound from a failed marriage in Portland, Oregon, she met John Phillips, an American Army radioman. On Christmas Eve—a few short weeks after the outbreak of war-- they married.

 Claire initially joined the American and Philipino refugees in desperate flight out of Manial to the Bataan peninsula. There,  American forces dug in and resisted the Japanese advance as long as they could. The "Battling Bastards of Bataan" (no Mama, no Papa, no Uncle Sam) resisted without supplies or reinforcements until April, 1942. When surrender came on April 9, Claire needed new options.

 With the help of some US forces who were taking to the hills, she made her way back to Manila, posing with forged papers as an Italian national, Dorothy Clara Fuentes. Going into partnership with a Filipina dancer named Fely Corcuera, she opened a nightspot, Club Tsubaki. It catered to Japanese officers with dancers, singers, and lots of alcohol. Over drinks and small talk, the officers spilled their hearts to the hostesses–who passed the information along to "Madame Tsubaki," a.k.a. Claire. She in turn passed it on to a network of anti-Japanese insurgents.
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In addition to passing along intelligence, Claire Phillips started a network that smuggled food, medicine, and letters to the desperate American soldiers imprisoned at Cabanatuan. Starved, abused, constantly in danger of death by vitamin deficiency, overwork, or other ailments, the men of the camp grew to depend on the network run by the mysterious "High Pockets" (a codename Phillips gave herself for her habit of tucking confidential notes into her brassiere.) Although she never carried a gun or wore a uniform, there is no doubt that Phillips provided both intelligence and humanitarian aid that was vital to the Allied cause.

Interlude: 2006


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Graham of South Carolina said the term "enemy combatant" also would apply to those fighting a U.S. ally. "We're making sure that an enemy combatant could be defined as something other than a front-line troop," Graham said. "We want to make sure that giving material aid and support to terrorism would put you in the enemy combatant category." Graham said U.S. citizens could not be deemed enemy combatants under the bill, but several human rights advocates said the language was so broad that they believed Americans could be detained under it. The Center for Constitutional Rights said even attorneys representing Guantanamo inmates could be deemed enemy combatants. "More could be deemed enemy combatants by bill," Vicki Allen, Reuters, Sep 26, 2006

Manila, 1944
For Phillips, both her spying and her charity work came to an end on May 23, 1944 when the dreaded Kempeitai, or Japanese military police, arrived at her door. Wearing only her housecoat and slippers, she was blindfolded and taken to headquarters, where it quickly became clear that they had intercepted one of her messages to US Army  Chaplain Tiffany in Cabanatuan. Phillips refused to admit to anything. She was beaten brutally, until she fell off the floor, and lay bleeding on the floor, still blindfolded.  Still she refused to talk.


The guards tripped her and tied her to a bench. She felt something forced into her mouth, a cold nozzle of some kind. She heard the metallic creak of a spigot and then a stream of water gushed from the tube's opening, at great pressure. This was the "water treatment" about which she'd heard so many horror stories. Her throat and lungs flooded, and she began to drown.
Phillips passed out. When she came to, the guards were pressing lit cirgarettes along the insides of her thighs... --- Hampton Sides, Ghost Soldiers (Doubleday, 2001) p. 196.

    Interlude: 2006
STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm going to take one more stab at this. Do you personally believe waterboarding is torture?

FRIST: I'm not going to comment. I'm not going to comment on individual techniques. It helps the terrorists, and the reason why it helps the terrorists who are going to come and try to assassinate us and people listening to us right now.
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From the September 24 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, via Media Matters

Despite more waterboarding, beatings, and brutality, Phillips refused to reveal any of her information about the anti-Japanese guerilla network. She was incarcerated; and later sentenced to death—a death sentence, which, miraculously, was never carried out. In February 1945 she was freed. Later she received the Medal of Freedom for her service.

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Manila, 1942-1945
Margaret Utinsky was born Peggy Doolin  of St. Louis. Her husband had gone to Bataan with its defenders; after its fall, she was determined to find his whereabouts. She assumed a false identity: unmarried nurse "Rosena Utinsky," born in Lithuania and raised in Canada, and therefore a Lithuanian national. As a Red Cross nurse, she travelled to Bataan, witnessing the aftermath of the Death March.

After a  fruitless search for her husband, Peggy Doolin  aka Rosena Utinsky returned to Manila.  Through her connections with local Roman Catholic priests, she put together  a network of American sympathizers of various nationalities—Chinese, Spanish, Swiss, Philipino, and others. From "Miss U's" network, she gathered a steady flow of cash which allowed her to buy drugs, clothes and food, all smuggled to American Army POWs in the local prison camps.
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When she learned the heartbreaking news that her husband Jack Utinsky had died in August of 1942, “Miss U” did not halt her ceaseless work on behalf of the Cabanatuan prisoners, but rather  redoubled her efforts. If only Jack had been given food and medicine, she reasoned, he might have survived. More than 9000 men came to rely on her network for food and medicine. Chaplain Tiffany smuggled to  “Miss U” the grateful notes of American prisoners:

“We’re the forgotten men of Bataan,
Maybe some can prove our worth,
And some will tell our strange tale
Of this horrible Hell on Earth
– quoted in  Margaret Utinsky "Miss U" (The Naylor Company, 1948), p. 72.

Eventually Miss U came into contact with the guerilla forces, whom she treated secretly with medicines at her apartment,  One of these cases tipped off the Kempeitei to “Miss U’"s true sympathies.

Onb the morning of Sept 28, 1944, Utinsky  was taken away from her Red Cross  hospital ward.  At Fort Santiago, she was questioned  for hours, forced to keep her arms stretched out on the table an unnatural and increasingly wearing position. Although she kept her calm and kept her story straight under duress, the beatings began when the officers still were not satisfied:

The officer  jumped from his chair, purple with rage, the veins in his forehead distended, and struck me full in the face with his fist. The blow knocked me out of the chair. I think it must have been then, that very first day, that they broke my jaw….Painfully I
pulled myself up and for good measure the officer kicked me as I rose. My mouth was full of blood and broken teeth. I spat them out on the floor. ---Utinsky,p. 95

Utinsky stuck to her story. For 32 days, Utinsky was imprisoned in Fort Santiago, eating 2 meals a day of boiled rice and sleeping on the stone floor with no water, no bathing, and no medical attention for her considerable injuries.  After five days of beating and continued questions, the torture began. First there was the bench:

The officer made a gesture and the interpreter got up and pushed a bench near the table. He pointed to it…its only unusual feature was that it had thin slip baboo across it for a seat—and split bamboo is as sharp as knives!...I let myself down gingerly on my bare shins, and leaned forward to rest my weight on my arms on the table. The interpreter pushed them off. “Sit back,” he  ordered. "Sit back.”

So I sat back on my heels, the bamboo cutting into my legs.  That day they really went to work on me….It went on for hours, the sharp edges of the bamboo cutting deeper and deeper into my legs. The bone is close to the surface of the shins. ----Utinsky, p. 104-105.

Interlude: 2004


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...In the view expressed by the Justice Department memo, which differs from the view of the Army, physical torture "must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." For a cruel or inhuman psychological technique to rise to the level of mental torture, the Justice Department argued, the psychological harm must last "months or even years."
"Memo on Torture Draws Focus to Bush, "By Mike Allen and Dana Priest
Washington Post, Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Fort Santiago, Manila, 1944
After the first night of her ordeal, Margaret Utinsky again lay on the floor of her filthy cell, unable to wash or tend her excruciatingly painful, deeply lacerated legs. The next day, her captors tried something new. You may have heard it described as a "stress position."

They tied my hands behind my back, attached a rope to the tied wrists and jerked me up several feet above the floor. While I hung there, they screamed questions at me
again and again and beat me with their fists...It is simple to say, it is harder to imagine: your
arms are tied behind you, they pull you up with your weight on your twisted arms: the questions hammer on and on; without warning, at any minute, the belt comes lashing across your back, you jerk on the end of the rope—well, that’s how my day was...
When they let me down from the beatings, they would lower me to about two feet from the floor and then drop me. Instinctively my knees would draw up and I would fall on the torn flesh. The first few times I thought the fall would kill me, but I lived through thirty-two days. And sometimes, just for variety, when his cigarette was burning brightly, the officer ground the burning coal into my arm.
 —----Utinsky, pp. 105-106.

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Interlude, 2003

The Associated Press quoted an expert who described the position in which Jamadi died as a form of torture known as “Palestinian hanging,” in which a prisoner whose hands are secured behind his back is suspended by his arms. (The technique has allegedly been used in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.)
 
------"A DEADLY INTERROGATION:Can the C.I.A. legally kill a prisoner?" By Jane Mayer, Issue of 2005-11-14, Posted 2005-11-07 The New Yorker

Fort Santiago, Manila, 1944
Utinsky's tortures continued for over a month, as her tormentors continued their endless questions. Sensing that her physical courage could not be broken, the kemepeitei tried more brutal psychological methods. They forced Utinsky—a nurse, mind you, someone dedicated to alleviating suffering—to watch unimaginable pain inflicted upon others.

Night after night, I looked through the bars and saw the incredible things that man can do to man. I saw beatings and torture. I saw living men brought in an their dead bodies dragged out. One night I saw five Filipinos, four men and a woman, beheaded in that narrow corridor....About nine o'clock there was the sound of a movement, and then through the bars I could see the man as he was brought nearer. He was an American. I was sure of that. His feet were hobbled and he could take steps only about six inches long. His hands were handcuffed behind him. At every step of his slow walk the Japanese were beating and kicking him. ..I saw the captain take a belt and wrap the end around his hand. My stomach turned over. I knew what that meant– the beating with the buckle end. And this man was so sick and so hurt ...The man did not cry out–perhaps he would not give them the satisfaction, perhaps he was just too weak. Again and again the buckle struck and I could hear the sighing sound as it cut in. Blood and pieces of flesh flew all over me...—----Utinsky, pp. 108-109

Interlude: 2002-2003

Aside from the use of dogs, mock executions and death threats were prevalent in Afghanistan and Iraq. A detainee in Kandahar, Afghanistan says that in 2002, a 9mm pistol was held to his temple. In Iraq in 2003, several "staged executions" of detainees were observed with reports of US personnel holding guns to detainees' heads in Karbala and Taji, Iraq in the summer of 2003. Threats were extended to family members, particularly the wives and daughters of detainees.–"Abu Ghraib-One Year Later: Comprehensive Report Documents Use of Psychological Torture by US Forces," May 1, 2005, Physicians for Human Rights Press Release
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CALLER: It was like a college fraternity prank that stacked up naked men --

LIMBAUGH: Exactly. Exactly my point! This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation and we're going to ruin people's lives over it and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of need to blow some steam off?        –May 4 2004 Rush Limbaugh show, as reported by Media Matters

Manila, 1944
The kempeitei plan backfired:

When I left the next morning for my usual day of question and torture–I can't remember now whether it was to the bamboo bench or to the hanging and beating–the thought of that poor man made it easier for to take the worst they could give. They gave it all right, trying to trap me with questions, trying to break me with pain. But I remembered that my filthy dress was all spattered with blood that I knew was American blood, shed to make me talk and endanger more Americans. ---Utinsky, p. 109

Despite 32 days more of physical and mental torture, despite witnessing the death of the American man and so many other prisoners, Margaret Utinsky refused to talk. finally her captors released her, frustrated in their inability to break her. They kept her under close surveillance even as she went through 6 weeks of hospital treatment for her wounds, treatments which were only partly successful. Amazingly, Utinsky resumed her previous underground activities, finally fleeing to the guerilla forces and fighting in the wilds with them, serving as a nurse with the rank of LT in the guerilla forces.

After American forces retook the Phillippines, Margaret Utinsky was hailed as a heroine by the American army. On one of her first night back in civilizations, sleeping in a bed without the fear of the kempeitei haunting her every thought, she took stock of what the experiences had done to her body:


My legs were covered with blue scars from the gangrene that had set in from the bamboo bench. I had a broken jaw which had never been set. I could not lift my arms very far because of all those days when I had been hung. There was a curious lump under my left breast which was caused by the breastbone splitting from torture. --- Utinsky, p. 155.

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Like Claire Phillips, Margaret Utinsky received the Medal of Freedom for her service.

Postlude: 2006

While it is not clear exactly what techniques the White House wishes to keep, sources have said those previously used include nakedness, prolonged sensory assault and deprivation, the imposition of "stress" positions, and water submersion to the verge of drowning. Bush has said none of those amounts to torture. (Emphasis added.)
—"Bush Detainee Plan Adds to World Doubts Of U.S., Powell Says,"By Karen DeYoung and Peter Baker, Washington Post, Tuesday, September 19, 2006

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UPDATE: (9.48 PM ET) We lost this vote. It is a sad day. But the fight to preserve our Constitution and our basic humanity is not over. I urge you to still call your Reps and Senators and let them know that we will fight the pro-torture arguments---at the watercooler, in our places of worship, in newspapers, radio, tv, and the internet. We will fight politically--in elections, fundraising, and in lobbying. We will fight in court. We will fight through protests, demontrations, and other public action. We will give our lives, if necessary, to preserve our human freedom and dignity. And yes (apologies to Churchill)- WE WILL NEVER SURRENDER.

Action suggestions
If you would like to defend the same values that Claire Phillips and Margaret Utinsky suffered for—If you do not want to see American forces and agents legally authorized to take the actions of the kempeitei–If you would like to defend the ancient right of habeaus corpus–then please call your Senators today to voice your opposition to the torture bill. If you like, print this out and use these stories to remind them that torture is immoral and inhuman. And it does not work.

You can find your Senator's number (courtesy the ACLU) at this link.
Or see this diary for email and other contact info.

And also please press these Senators; as quoted in
this diary, they are key:
Lincoln Chafee (R - RI) - (202) 224-2921
Fax: (202) 228-2853
Chief of Staff: David Griswold
Legis. Dir.: Deb Brayton
Military LA: William Ralph

Susan M. Collins (R - ME) - (202) 224-2523
Fax: (202) 224-2523
Chief of Staff: Steve Abbott
Legis. Dir.: Jane Alonso
Military LA: MacKenzie Eaglen

Mike DeWine (R - OH) - (202) 224-2315
Fax: (202) 224-6519
Chief of Staff: Laurel Pressler
Legis. Dir.: Paul Palagyi
Military LA: Stacie Oliver

Chuck Hagel (R - NE) - (202) 224-4224
Fax: (202) 224-5213
Chief of Staff: Lou Ann Linehan
Legis. Dir.: Jill Konz
Military LA: Fran DuFrayne

Joseph I. Lieberman (D - CT) - (202) 224-4041
Fax: 202-224-9750
Chief of Staff: Clarine Nardi Riddle; phone: 224-4041
Legislative Director: Joe Goffman
Military Legislative Assistant: Fred Downey

Richard G. Lugar (R - IN) - (202) 224-4814
Fax: (202) 228-0360
Chief of Staff: Marty Morris
Legis. Dir.: Chris Geeslin
Military LA: Keri Maloney

Robert Menendez (D - NJ) - (202) 224-4744
Fax: (202) 228-2197
Chief of Staff: Ivan Zapien
Legis. Dir.: Chris Schloesser
Military LA: Jessica Lewis

John E. Sununu (R - NH) - (202) 224-2841
Fax: (202) 228-4131
Chief of Staff: Paul J. Collins, Jr
Legis. Dir.: Jamie Burnett
Military LA: Dave Cuzzi

(Important Note: I do not in any way believe the patriotic intelligence and relief work of Phillips and Utinsky was morally equivalent to that of the al-Quaeda or Taliban thugs who plan suicide bombings or the massacre of innocents. Yet their legal and physical treatment was remarkably similar to what the Bush administration has carried out on accused (NOT legally proven) terrorists: waterboarding, "stress positions," severe beatings, and extreme humiliation, combined with a complete lack of habeas corpus and other basic legal rights. Is this what we want to legally authorize?)

Originally posted to aphra behn on Thu Sep 28, 2006 at 05:57 AM PDT.

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