[Keywords: Frederick T. Arnold, Private Andrew K. Weir, Sergeant Edwards, Calaca, Batangas, water torture, water cure, Philippine-American War, Captain P.W. West, United States Army, United States Volunteers, Elihu Root]
From a letter1 by a Private Andrew K. Weir of the United States Volunteers’ Fourth Cavalry to his uncle, written in Balayan, Batangas on the 10th of April 1901, we get the gory details about the methods of torture employed by American soldiers against Filipinos during the Philippine-American War.
Bothered by what he was witnessing while on duty first in the town of Pasay and later in Calaca in Batangas, although reluctant to do so, Weir did file official complaints through army channels against one Lieutenant Frederick T. Arnold and one Sergeant Edwards. The complaint was investigated by the Inspector General’s Office, and the officer in charge, one Captain P. W. West, made the recommendation that
“…a thorough investigation into this matter will substantiate the charges made by Private Weir, that prisoners were treated in a cruel and harsh manner and that Lieutenant Arnold winked at the treatment2.”
In his book, author Christopher J. Einolf wrote that despite “West’s recommendation, there is no evidence that the army investigated the matter further or brought charges against Arnold and Edwards.”
|American soldiers administer the water cure to a Filipino during the Fil-Am War. Image source: PRI, originally from the US National Archives.
In Weir’s letter to his uncle, he wrote:
“We soldiers are representatives of a civilized nation sent out to these islands to ‘civilize’ a so-called lot of savages. These people are not nearly so uncivilized as is supposed… The army of the United States in the Philippines is representing the law of the United States. But whether or not it is proper to torture a man, it is done anyway, and under the orders of commissioned officers.”
He then went on to give a graphic account of the water torture – Weir’s term was ‘water cure’ – employed by the Americans on a young Filipino man who was accused of murder, highway robbery and rape in Pasay. Arnold had given Edwards instructions to extract information from the man, and the latter did so using the method Weir described below:
“The prisoner was stripped naked and laid on his back on the bare floor. A rough stick about 8 inches long and a half inch in diameter was put between the man’s jaws. A soldier held the man’s head down by pressing on the ends of the stick. Another sat on the man’s stomach, and still another sat on the man’s legs. Edwards had a bucket of water at hand. Water was poured down the man until it was vomited up. It was then repeated… The man heaved and begged for mercy but to no avail.”
The young Filipino was also whipped and clubbed mercilessly until eventually he agreed to show the Americans where the supposedly stolen money was. Weir realized that the prisoner did not really know where the money was and that he only agreed to do so to get the torture stopped.
Mortified, he saw Arnold privately to get the water treatment stopped, only to be threatened with insubordination. But Weir was unfazed and told his superior that if the water treatment was stopped, he would no longer report the incident. Arnold agreed and promised not to have anyone tortured again.
That promise was ultimately hollow as Weir would discover while on temporary assignment to Troop H of the Fourth Cavalry in Calaca, Batangas. From Arnold’s detachment of some twenty men, Weir learned that Arnold never stopped torturing Filipinos. In fact, he had a new way to do so as Weir described:
“A strip of flesh is cut just above the ankle of the prisoner; it is then attached to a stick; the stick is coiled with the strip of flesh… I saw the man that was cut at the ankle. I was over at Calaca the other day. He had his leg all bound up and was out in the road with the other prisoners working.”
Weir also wrote about this time when Arnold had an old man taken to a nearby stream to be tortured:
“I was not along, but have been told by several men that Arnold had his men take an old man to a stream and keep him under the water until the man was unconscious. This was because the old man did not give certain information that he was supposed to possess.”
Then, there was the torture by being dragged by a horse:
“Men of H Troop have told me that they have known Arnold to have a man tied to a saddled horse. A few feet of slack was allowed. A man was then mounted on the horse and told to gallop down the road for a mile and back. If the prisoner could run as fast as the horse it was all well, but if he could not he had to drag.”
Earlier in Pasay, as Weir confronted Arnold, the latter was supposed to have said, “…these people have no feelings other than physical and should not be treated as human beings.” Because of his bigoted opinion of Filipinos, Arnold was, of course, totally unaware that he was in his treatment of prisoners and his preference for the use of torture to extract in formation in truth the one who was behaving like a savage.
Arnold was, in fact, an 1897 graduate of West Point. In the context of the era, however, when albeit black Americans were already emancipated but continued to be treated as second class citizens in the United States, Arnold’s attitude towards Filipinos was not at all unusual. That said, Weir was quick to point out that majority of the American soldiers he came into contact with in the Philippines were really “humane.”
West, in investigating the charges filed by Weir, in fact wrote in a letter addressed to the Adjutant General of the Department of Northern Luzon that he had found witnesses who had corroborated Weir’s story. As already mentioned, however, there was no real evidence that suggested that the United States Army pursued the case to its natural conclusion: a court martial for the offending soldiers.
Notes and references:1 The letter was part of a document entitled “Mr. Root Must Go,” which contained documents about efforts to have Mr. Elihu Root, United States Secretary of War during the Philippine-American War, dismissed from office on account of reports of anomalous behavior by American soldiers assigned in the Philippines at the time. Online at Hathi Trust Digital Library.
2 “America in the Philippines, 1899-1902: the First Torture Scandal,” by Christopher J. Einolf, published 2014.