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26 June, 2013
Secretary Root's Record:"Marked Severities" in Philippine Warfare
Appendix C: Captain Ryan's Case


The following case is peculiarly illustrative of the attitude of the army toward the use of torture for military purposes, and demonstrates also the inability of courts-martial to do justice in such cases. By direction of the President, Secretary Root ordered General Chaffee to court-martial Captain James A. Ryan of the Fifteenth Cavalry for cruelty in his method of obtaining information from the native Filipinos. This order was given about the 8th of May, 1902; and the action was taken in consequence of the report made by William P. Rhode, a special prosecutor, who had been sent to investigate certain complaints made against Ryan. From Rhode's report, as given in the Boston Herald in a despatch of May 8, the following is quoted:

"Each individual before being examined by Captain Ryan had his arms tied to his body in such a manner that he could not protect his head when falling. Then he was stood up erect upon a wooden floor, and had his legs knocked from under him. Then his body was lifted and his head jolted against the floor once more, whereupon he was stood upon his head in a bucket of water for a certain length of time, and then was examined. This process was employed three times in succession before Waldo Abing made his statement.

Altogether, about a dozen of the natives are said to have received this treatment."


On the 20th of August the Springfield Republican published a statement as to the reports of the trial contained in the Manila newspapers, and the following is quoted as indicating the line of defence which Ryan adopted:

The papers are full of reports of the trial of Captain Ryan, who was charged with administering the water torture. Ryan was defended by Major Glenn, who had been under similar charges. Captain Ryan, in his own defence, used this language: "Did my sticking the heads of these treacherous, lying native office-holders into a pail of water, thereby washing away an impediment in their speech, constitute a greater crime than treason against the flag and the soldiers who defend it?"


He was tried for several offences; and it has since appeared that the court acquitted him on all the specifications except one, of which they found him guilty "without criminality," and for which they imposed no sentence. The President has disapproved the conclusion, but without stating his reasons.

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