Did a soldier waterboard his daughter?

An Army sergeant allegedly used the torture technique to make his daughter learn the alphabet

Published February 9, 2010 9:13PM (EST)

In an obvious reference to waterboarding al-Qaida suspects, former Vice President Dick Cheney was asked in October 2006 whether “a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?" Cheney responded like Cheney: "Well, it's a no-brainer for me.”

Joshua Tabor, an Army sergeant in Washington state who served in Iraq, also apparently bought into that "ends-justifies-the-means" argument for waterboarding. Though for Tabor, the ends was allegedly getting his 4-year-old daughter to recite the alphabet.

Police in Yelm, Wash., arrested Tabor, 27, on Jan. 31 after allegedly waterboarding his daughter for failing to say her ABCs. "Daddy was upset because she wouldn't say her letters," according to the police report.

The Bush administration authorized waterboarding and various techniques to exploit phobias. In true Cheney fashion, Tabor employed both simultaneously -- his daughter was apparently terrified of the water. "His purpose was to punish her by putting her in the water because he knows she is afraid of it and he wanted her to cooperate," police said Tabor told them. Police told reporters that Tabor sat her on the edge of the bathroom sink and dunked her head when she failed to recite the alphabet.

As if Tabor was channeling Cheney, he explained to police that after her dunk in the water, "She said her letters after that."

Well, then. There you go. It’s just a dunk in the water, after all.

The police apparently had to coax the terrified girl out of the bathroom. She was covered with bruises.

Perhaps you’re thinking, "Well, that’s not quite fair. You people are blaming the torture of a 4-year-old girl on the former vice president. Cheney was trying to save lives."

Smart people who have actually studied the history of torture, like Darius Rejali, author of "Torture and Democracy," point out that when institutionalizing torture, government officials almost always rationalize torture on national security grounds. Despite the lack of evidence, they always insist that it "worked" because they’d look really, really bad if it didn’t.

And when institutionalizing torture, officials pretty much always try to put limits on just who can be tortured and exactly how. Both limits always fail as the torturers exceed those bounds and the brutality metastasizes throughout the national security establishment -- and beyond.

If the Bush administration had not authorized waterboarding, do you really think Tabor would have come up with that one on his own?

By Mark Benjamin

Mark Benjamin is a national correspondent for Salon based in Washington, D.C. Read his other articles here.

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