Secretary Root's Record:"Marked Severities" in Philippine Warfare Kennan's Investigation
George Kennan is a man of national reputation, and his statements are believed by the American
people. He was employed by that strong supporter of the policy of conquest, the Outlook, to
investigate the charges as to cruelty.
He found them sustained, his conclusions, published in the Outlook of March 9, 1901, being as
That we have inspired a considerable part of the Philippine population with a feeling of intense
hostility toward us, and given them reason for deep-seated and implacable resentment, there can
be no doubt. We have offered them many verbal assurances of benevolent intention; but, at the
same time, we have killed their unresisting wounded, we hold fifteen hundred or two thousand of
them in prison, we have established at Guam a penal colony for their leaders, and we are now
resorting directly or indirectly to the old Spanish inquisitorial methods such as the "water
torture" in order to compel silent prisoners to speak or reluctant witnesses to testify.
Among other evidence Mr. Kennan quoted from a letter written by an officer of the regular
army, who was in fact then serving in Luzon, the following:
A company of Macabebes enter a town or barrio, catch some man, -- it matters not whom, -- ask
him if he knows where there are any guns, and, upon receiving a negative answer, five or six of
them throw him down, one holds his head, while others have hold of an arm or a leg. They then
proceed to give him the "water torture," which is the distension of the internal organs with water.
After they are distended, a cord is sometimes placed around the body and the water expelled.
From what I have heard, it appears to be generally applied; and its use is not confined to our
section. Although it results in the finding of a number of guns, it does us an infinite amount of
harm. Nor are the Macabebes the only ones who use this method of obtaining information.
Personally, I have never seen this torture inflicted, nor have I ever knowingly allowed it; but I
have seen a victim a few minutes afterward, with his mouth bleeding where it had been cut by a
bayonet used to hold the mouth open, and his face bruised where he had been struck by the
Macabebes. Add to this the expression of his face and his evident weakness from the torture, and
you have a picture which once seen will not be forgotten. I am not chickenhearted, but this
policy hurts us. Summary executions are, and will be, necessary in a troubled country, and I have
no objection to seeing that they are carried out; but I am not used to torture. The Spaniards used
the torture of water, throughout the islands, as a means of obtaining information; but they used it
sparingly, and only when it appeared evident that the victim was culpable. Americans seldom do
things by halves. We come here and announce our intention of freeing the people from three or
four hundred years of oppression, and say, "We are strong, and powerful, and grand." Then to
resort to inquisitorial methods, and use them without discrimination, is unworthy of us, and will
recoil on us as a nation.
Did Secretary Root take any steps to investigate the truth of these statements before he gave the
country to understand that the "water cure" was not used?
Under date of April 25, 1900, an officer vouched for as trustworthy writes from Tarlac, and his
statement was published in the Springfield Republican:
We have a company of Macabebe scouts who go out with white troops, and, if they cannot get
any guns voluntarily, they proceed to give the fellows the water cure; that is, they throw them on
their backs, stick a gag in their months to keep it open, then proceed to fill them with water till
they cannot hold more. Then they get on them, and a sudden pressure on the stomach and chest
forces the water out again. I guess it must cause excruciating agony.
Nor was this the only method of torture employed. Here is a description quoted in the
Washington correspondence of the Chicago Record-Herald, from John Loughran, who had seen
it "administered to natives in the islands during the first year of American supremacy" (which
was certainly before the natives had been discovered to be a cruel set of people):
A light but strong rope is passed across the throat of the man to be examined. It is crossed behind
his back and carried under the arm pits, the ends are again brought around the neck and over to
the back, turned under the armpits and shoulders, and then the free ends are carried as a girdle
around the waist just at the end of the ribs, and tied fast and securely. A stick is put through the
ropes where they cross between the shoulders, and then turned to suit. "Will it make a man talk?"
Mr. Loughran was asked. "A wooden Indian would make a speech if you gave him the rope
cure," he replied. Mr. Loughran says that this was far more effective than the water cure, which
is slow. The rope cure often persuaded a native to reveal the hiding-place of his gun; and it did it
quickly, because he knew that as soon as he consented to talk the stick would be loosened and
would fly back, relieving the agony instantaneously. Of course, if the victim should have a weak
heart, he might die of shock; but the native Filipino does not seem to be troubled with the
This letter could be filled with extracts like this from newspapers. The testimony before the
Philippine committee proves conclusively that the water torture was regularly used by our
troops. Captain Glenn, who administered it, as shown in Panay, was at the time the judge
advocate of the island, and as such bound to see that violations of the laws of war were punished.
It was he who gave the orders to burn Igbaras, which was fired between eight and nine in the
morning and by twelve was entirely destroyed. As to the people, "they only had time to save the
clothes they wore at the time," was the testimony of Private Smith, who set the fire and who
testified also that Lieutenant Conger ordered torture by saying "water detail," showing that this
was no isolated case.
Corporal Gibbs testified to knowing of the water cure at Catbalogan; tried to peep in at the
windows of the place where it was administered; heard the moans of the victims. He saw the
sickly expression on their faces as they came out. He heard that one died, and saw his funeral.
He testified that the soldiers engaged in administering it were "usually the interpreter and the
American scouts," that the place of torture was "right in the rear of the officers' quarters," and, asked to describe the water used, answered:
They would go to the shore and take a tin pan and dish up sand with water, with the salt water,
and, if that could not be found, they would get something else that was dirty,
and that they got this "simply to inflict a more severe punishment upon them."
The testimony of First Lieutenant Grover Flint, the son-in-law of the well-known historian John
Fiske, is instructive. He testifies that in May, 1900, his company and another were sent out under
command of Major Geary, with an advance guard of Macabebe scouts under the command of an
American sergeant detailed for the purpose; that, as towns were approached, a skeleton cordon
was thrown out, the town surrounded, and
the Macabebes would then enter the houses and pull out these men and talk with them, and take
them down to the well and put them through the test.
On the next day
this same thing was repeated, and our men took quite a little part in it, apparently as volunteers.
They were not ordered to do so. I know that.
Flint went over to Major Geary, and said that
no commissioned officer seemed to be in charge there ... and that I would stay there for a while
if he wanted me to. He said, "All right, if you want to."
He said he never saw a man die, but heard that men had, and saw one that he thought was going
to die. He then described the torture:
A man is thrown down on his back and three or four men sit or stand on his arms and legs and
hold him down; and either a gun barrel or a rifle barrel or a carbine barrel or a stick as big as a
belaying pin, -- that is, with an inch circumference, -- is simply thrust into his jaws and his jaws
are thrust back, and, if possible, a wooden log or stone is put under his head or neck, so he can
be held more firmly. In the case of very old men I have seen their teeth fall out, -- I mean when it
was done a little roughly. He is simply held down and then water is poured onto his face down
his throat and nose from a jar; and that is kept up until the man gives some sign or becomes
unconscious. And, when he becomes unconscious, he is simply rolled aside and he is allowed to
come to. In almost every case the men have been a little roughly handled. They were rolled aside
rudely, so that water was expelled. A man suffers tremendously, there is no doubt about it. His
sufferings must be that of a man who is drowning, but cannot drown. ... I did not stop it,
because I had no right to.... Major Geary was about sixty yards away.
The first night he saw about thirty treated between three o'clock in the morning, when they
entered the village, and daybreak. It was a village of about a hundred houses. Twenty more were
put through the next morning.
He saw it again in January, 1901, where fifteen men were tortured, and no guns obtained:
They seemed to be put through as a matter of routine.... I don't think they were insurgents. They
were Pampangans. It was along the border line.
He testified further that he had seen
hamlets, small towns of fifty or sixty houses, burned by the American soldiers.... I saw it.... I
think the idea was at that time that the burning of these villages would drive the people to the
woods or to the towns, -- a policy of concentration, I think.... The people who lived in these
houses were apparently engaged in peaceful pursuits.... I saw it done in Cuba, under General
Weyler, I believe.
These are specimens of much testimony given, and much more that was ready to be given. It is
clear that for two years and more the practice was constantly increasing, and that it was used as a
matter of course.
On April 8, 1902, a letter from which the following extract is taken appeared in the New York
Evening Post from a gentleman in Manila who is vouched for as a person of high character and
Sir, -- ... The natives do not love Americans, and with good reason. An army column, out,
perhaps, burning barrios, falls in with a native. He may be a villager tilling his garden, or a
fisherman. The Americans demand information as to the whereabouts of rifles, the location of
insurgent bands in the neighborhood, and their cuartel. Now the Tagalog is by nature and by
training sullen and disinclined to talk, and conversation becomes doubly difficult when
questioner and questioned do not speak the same language. The Tagalog knows perhaps one
English word, the universally known "Hello!" and the soldier is equally deficient in Tagalog.
Each will know a little Spanish, but not enough to make exchange of ideas even under must
favorable circumstances at all easy. A native friendly to the Americans, or -- God save the mark!
-- a Macabebe as interpreter, presents awful possibilities for mischief.
Now it must not be forgotten that the native who gives to the Americans information is in an
unenviable position. He is not in Manilla or in a garrisoned town where the Americans can
protect him, he is among persons unfriendly to our cause; and the friendly native, when he thinks
of the gratuitous cruelty of the American soldier, may well hesitate before arousing the
antagonism of his Filipino neighbors.
But he who will not must be compelled to divulge information. The past masters in the art of
torture are the Macabebe scouts, hereditary enemies of the Tagals. Soldiers will tell you with
glee of their hellish tortures. Men are tied up by their thumbs; men are pulled up to limbs of trees
and fires kindled underneath them, the heat and smoke compelling submission; men are pounded
particularly about the chest, for "you'd be surprised," said a soldier, "how few knocks it takes to
cause bleeding at the mouth." Bunches of bamboos tied at one end have the individual rods
pushed between the fingers of the hand. When the other end of the bundle is squeezed together,
the pain is excruciating.
But the water cure! If the tortures I've mentioned are hellish, the water cure is plain hell. The
native is thrown upon the ground, and, while his legs and arms are pinioned, his head is raised
partially so as to make pouring in the water an easier matter. An attempt to keep the mouth
closed is of no avail: a bamboo stick or a pinching of the nose will produce the desired effect.
And now the water is poured in, and swallow the poor wretch must or strangle. A gallon of water
is much, but it is followed by a second and a third. By this time the victim is certain his body is
about to burst. But he is mistaken, for a fourth and even a fifth gallon are poured in. By this time
the body becomes an object frightful to contemplate; and the pain, agony. While in this
condition, speech is impossible; and so the water must be squeezed out of him. This is
sometimes allowed to occur naturally, but is sometimes hastened by pressure, and "sometimes
we jump on them to get it out quick," said a young soldier to me with a smile, -- a young soldier,
a mere boy hardly ten years out of his mother's lap. I did not wonder when an officer, in answer
to my question how often he had seen it, said, "Not often: my feelings too much revolted." Does
it seem possible that cruelty could further go? And what must we think of the fortitude of the
native when we learn that many times the "cure" is twice given ere the native yields? I heard of
one who took it three times, and died.
How often is it given? is a natural question. No one knows. A sergeant told me he had seen it
taken by between two and three hundred, by as many as twenty sometimes in a day. Another had
seen eighty. An officer saw four, but knew of its happening two hundred times.
Another phase of the subject merits our attention, -- the effect upon the American. The
unconcerned way in which the soldiers and civilians, too, speak of the water cure, the exulting
way in most cases, is the saddest phase of all. The officer's pity for the native undergoing the
treatment is the only expression of sympathy for the Filipino I've heard from the lips of a soldier,
-- the only one. These things are not lovely, but they are true.
Indeed, what more evidence is needed than that a judge advocate like Captain Glenn himself
ordered it, and that, when found guilty by court-martial, he was sentenced to pay a fine of $50,
one-half the fine that may be imposed for spitting in a street-car in Boston? This sentence for
torture, not isolated but regularly practised, shows how it was regarded in the army. Such
toleration of barbarity, which was denied when first charged by every supporter of the war as
impossible under the American flag, shows that the practice had become general.
It is only a fresh example of the old rule, that vice, at first shocking, becomes through familiarity
attractive. No critic ever made so severe an attack upon the honor of the army as did the
court-martial which imposed this farcical sentence for such a crime. Had it not been for the
public outcry at home, Captain Glenn would never have been tried.
Is it conceivable that the Secretary of War did not know when he wrote his letter of February 17,
denying that the water torture was practised, what had been familiar knowledge in Manila for
two years, what had been charged again and again in the newspapers of the United States, and
what the records of his own department showed?