On Torture, From Someone Who Knows

Civil liberties and human rights organizations around the country are calling for accountability for torture. I'm amazed and profoundly disappointed that this has apparently become necessary in our country.

Upon graduation from the United States Naval Academy in 1961, I had the honor of serving in the United States Navy. I served 20 years as an active duty commissioned officer. During that time, I became a naval aviator, flew combat in Vietnam, was downed over North Vietnam on April 20, 1965, and became a prisoner of war. I was repatriated on February 12, 1973, having served 2,855 days and nights as a POW — just short of eight years.

During those eight years, I and more than 90 percent of my fellow POWs were repeatedly tortured for the extortion of information to be used for political propaganda and sometimes just for retribution. Because the Vietnamese had not yet formally recognized any international treaties on treatment of prisoners — including the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War or the United Nations' Convention Against Torture — we were not treated as POWs, but instead pronounced "criminals."

We were regularly subject to torture, harassment, malnutrition, isolation, lack of medical care, and other degradations during our captivity. I was tortured dozens of times during my captivity. I often thought of our Constitution and the higher purpose we served — a purpose that helped me resist beyond what I thought I'd ever be capable of. Ironically, we POWs received great moral and psychological strength during our incarceration, telling each other, "Our country is civilized and would never knowingly treat people like this. Our country would never stoop to torture and the low level of treatment we were experiencing at the hands of our captors."

We felt we had the moral high ground and took great pride in being American, above such barbarity. Besides, we all knew from experience that torture is useless, because under torture we told our tormentors whatever we thought they wanted to hear. Whenever possible, we slipped in ridiculous statements like one I used in a torture-extracted "confession," that "only officers are allowed to use the swimming pool on the USS Midway." Another friend wrote in a "confession" that "my commanding officer, Dick Tracy, ordered me to bomb schools and hospitals." These are just two examples of the kind of culturally embedded nonsense people can expect to extract through torture.

Arguments have been made that "enhanced interrogation techniques," such as "stress positions" do not constitute torture. Well, if you don't think so, try going out on your driveway or sidewalk, without any clothes on, on a frigidly cold night. Kneel down on the concrete, holding your body erect with your arms extended above your head. In a very few minutes you will begin to feel real pain. Imagine several menacing tormentors hovering above you to ensure that you remain in that position. That's torture.

Another argument attempts to qualify captives as POWs, or "detainees" or, as the Bush administration referred to the detainees, "enemy combatants." Please — they are human beings. We are holding people in indeterminate isolation from families, Red Cross visits and requirements under international law and the Geneva Convention. From experience, I say this constitutes torture of the heart and soul.

Another nonsensical argument goes, "What if we have someone who has planted an atomic weapon in a major city and we want to find out where in time to stop it?" Do we enact a special law that violates our Constitution, treaties and statutes for this preposterous eventuality? Do we seriously think we could extract "where and when" from this individual anyway?

So now my question is: Will the American public demand that President Obama live up to his stated promise that "no one is above the law?" Will we hold the new administration to the Constitution, treaties and other statutes prohibiting such cruel and unusual punishments and demand accountability for the shameful legacy of torture that has tarnished America's reputation over the last eight years?

I despair when I think of the personal sacrifices made by so many in U.S. wars and conflicts since 1776. If our forefathers were here to see, they would surely be angry and disappointed. And I think they would issue a clarion call for redress and setting an example for the world by holding accountable the perpetrators of these crimes.

As a torture survivor; I am concerned. We cannot afford to regress to the 15th century or stoop to the level of countries that have institutionalized torture. Even on a practical level, we must not thereby endanger our own citizens, in uniform or out, who might be kidnapped or captured by others in the future. These violations of our Constitution and rule of law have resulted in reducing our nation to the level of international pariah. Our beacon of liberty and justice no longer shines throughout the world. We no longer set the example for other nations to follow. We no longer stand on a firm foundation.

As a patriot who fought and sacrificed for our country, I ask all Americans to stand up for what is civil, humane and right. If we don't demand accountability for the crimes that were committed in our name, then we as a nation will have effectively institutionalized the torture of the last eight years. Let's keep the promise for ourselves and all humanity, the promise that is our United States of America.

Phillip Butler Ph.D. is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a former Navy light-attack carrier pilot. In 1965 he was shot down over North Vietnam and later was awarded two Silver Stars, two Legion of Merits, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Heart medals. After his repatriation in 1973, he earned a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California at San Diego, and served as a Navy organizational effectiveness consultant before completing his Navy career in 1981. He then founded and owned a management consulting and professional speaking business. Today, he mentors business and organization leaders and is a community activist.

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Vic Livingston

Anti-Vigilante Journalist Assaulted by PA Cops: A Set-Up?

Think what's happening in the streets of Tehran can't happen here?

For your consideration, here's what happened to this reporter this Monday past in Bucks County, PA, not far from Philadelphia -- and why I think it happened.

I was assaulted and unconstitutionally imprisoned Monday night, June 22nd, by
Falls Township, Bucks County, PA, police, who violently twisted my arm, threw me down on the trunk of my car (which was confiscated and towed), handcuffed me so tightly that I still have bruises, placed me in a squad car in a stress position and left me there for a prolonged period, threw me in a holding cell for about a half-hour, refused to allow me to make a phone call (saying I could make a call "when you get to prison"), did not read me my Miranda rights, fingerprinted me and took mug shots and demanded my signature on three forms, then released me with no charges filed and said I would be charged "in the mail" with "stalking" -- when -- not so coincidentally -- I have been a victim of officially-enabled "organized community stalking" for FIVE YEARS, wherever I go, even while traveling out of state.

My name is Vic Livingston, and I'm now an internet-based investigative reporter; call me a refugee from mainstream media. (http://NowPublic.com/scrivener). I'm also a former business reporter for Fox 29 TV, The Philadelphia Bulletin, St. Petersburg Times, NY Daily News Tonight, former editor of CableVision and TV/Radio Age magazines, and former producer and host of the "Sports Business Report" show on Madison Square Garden Network in New York (1998-2004).

My mainstream media career was decimated, along with my physical well-being, by a highly coordinated, officially-enabled campaign of constant vigilante stalking, slander, apparent financial sabotage and physical and psychological abuse.

I am the author of many articles exposing the federal government's role in creating and overseeing this unconstitutional nationwide "torture matrix" program of vigilante extrajudicial targeting, punishment, and microwave radiation "directed energy weapon" torture.

http://NowPublic.com/scrivener RE: "Gestapo USA"

I have posted many comments and articles on many internet sites about this issue, apparently making me an even more attractive target for intensified government persecution and recrimination.

Evidence indicates that my telephone calls are being intercepted and sometimes responded to by impostors.

My email address is scrivener50@verizon.net -- but my email also is subject to interception and malicious interference.

Welcome to Gestapo USA. Please help restore the rule of law in America by helping me expose officially-sanctioned vigilantism in every community in America -- and please help me secure the legal assistance I have been seeking from the American Civil Liberties Union, local and national, for some time -- to no avail.


Dr. Butler, thank you for your service and for speaking out.


Thank you Mr. Butler for discussing your experiences in a public forum. I'm sure that wasn't easy, but it's voices like yours which will help America realize just how far it has strayed. Just two comments:
- Neither Vietnam or the US had signed the UN Convention Against Torture, since it wasn't written until long after the war.
- While the US military has a long history of fair treatment of POWs, abuses still are known to happen. In particular, during the period you were a POW, the CIA, Navy SEALs, Special Forces and MACV-SOG were all involved in the "Operation Phoenix" counterinsurgency program, which regularly tortured and assassinated civilians.


i need some advice on unhealthy and unsafe jail conditions


skrekk Says:
June 27th, 2009 at 2:27 am
Thank you Mr. Butler for discussing your experiences in a public forum. I’m sure that wasn’t easy, but it’s voices like yours which will help America realize just how far it has strayed. Just two comments:
- Neither Vietnam or the US had signed the UN Convention Against Torture, since it wasn’t written until long after the war.
End quote.
Skrekk’s comment is correct but an incomplete treatment of the facts, as they were, when Dr. Butler was in a North Vietnamese POW camp.
There were four Geneva Conventions to address issues of humane treatment in war. They occurred in 1864, 1906, 1929 and 1949. The US signed each of these agreements.
There was another Geneva Convention in 1954 particularly related to South East Asia and settlement of the issues there. The ’54 convention did not address POW’s specifically. It was signed only by France and the Republic of Vietnam.
American servicemen were taught in the Vietnam era that they were protected by AND constrained by the 1954 Geneva Convention. In fact the US troops were protected by and constrained by the 1949 Geneva Convention which the US had signed.

Lawrence Gist

Hello Sir:

Thank you for your service and sharing your experience. We as a nation have much to learn from persons such as yourself.

I found your posting due to a email I received from an organization which we both belong, i.e.. Veterans for Peace. I took the liberty of taking your first person account and adapted it intoan article under the title 'Our Nation has a Great Deal to Learn from Phillip Butler about Morality, Law, and Torture,” published at www.opednews.com .
While I doubt you will have any objection to my adaptation of your blog entry, please let me know if you do in fact object and I will have the article removed without delay. However, I suspect you will both like the piece as well as want to encourage the wider distribution of the honorable concepts addressed within.

Thank you again for your service and for sharing lessons from which we may all learn.

In Peace and Justice,

Lawrence J. Gist II,

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