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Torture of Our Prisoners

In response to:

Torture in Hanoi from the March 7, 1974 issue

To the Editors:

How many readers of Anthony Lewis’s “Torture in Hanoi” (NYR, March 7, 1974), including Mr. Lewis himself, are aware that the exact form of torture (the trussing of a human being in straps) described by Major Trautman in They Wouldn’t Let Us Die: The Prisoners of War Tell Their Story and by Colonel Risner in The Passing of Night: My Seven Years as a Prisoner of the North Vietnamese was, and possibly still is, being used on American soldiers by American soldiers on American soil?

I take the liberty of quoting from my forthcoming book The Fort Dix Stockade, Our Prison Camp Next Door.* The following is from Bill Brakefield, a pacifist, one of the young men who was awaiting a Court Martial with a possible sentence of fifty years in 1969:

Howie (Sergeant E6 Davidson) has a particularly disgusting habit of putting people in straps. He thoroughly enjoys this practice of medieval torture.

Straps consist of putting a prisoner on his stomach, putting your knee (in Howie’s case this is over two hundred pounds of pressure) in the small of the prisoner’s back to hold him down, then taking his arms and legs and strapping them together somewhere up behind his shoulder blades. Howie then likes to laugh and says, “Talk back to me now, mother-fucker!”

While in Segregation in the Fort Dix stockade awaiting his trial, Carlos Rodriguez Torres wrote an anguished letter to members of the Worker Defense League:

I may be Court Martialed like so many others, and it is so important that my story pierce the ears of the people in the world outside the stockade…. If you think that torture is no longer used, you are wrong. Let me give you a few cases…. As I was going to my cell I saw big bruisers go into his [fellow prisoner’s] cell…. He was in the straps about five or six hours. He was laid on a bunch of boards about eight inches off the ground and every thirty minutes or so he was picked up and let fall, hitting his head and abdomen, each time from higher up. As a result, after he was unstrapped, the man was unable to use his legs without support. His face was bashed up and he couldn’t use his arms. He was in cell 12. I was in 14….

This trussing of human beings is not an uncommon practice among our military prison camps throughout the world:

About thirty minutes south of Hiroshima by train, the US maintains a brig at the Marine Corps Station in Iwa Kuni, Japan. Mark Amsterdam of the Center of Constitutional Rights was there and told me the same ugly story of inhuman conditions: “…another prisoner was kept in a hog-tied position…. The prisoner’s hands were shackled at the wrists, his feet shackled at the ankles and then hands and feet strapped together. He was kept in that position for over a week. The guards [American servicemen] would come in and jump on him….” Mark Amsterdam saw the scars on this man’s wrists months after the torture.

There is little we can do to change the barbaric treatment of American prisoners by the North Vietnamese but surely we might address our attention to our own barbarisms, to our own torture of our own men in our own military prison camps; or is that too much to ask of our war-weary selves?

Joan Simon Crowell

New York City

  1. *

    Link Books, April, 1974.

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