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Torturing Children is Not Discipline

2012 August 16

Does Anybody Remember ‘Daddy Waterboard’?

No, I don’t mean Delaware physician, Melvin Morse, who was accused this week of holding his 11-year-old daughter’s face under a running faucet. More about Morse later, but this is not the first reported U.S. case of a child being tortured in this way by a parent. Some of this post may be painful to read, but hang in there.
            In January of 2010, according to ABC News and other sources, Takoma, Washington soldier Joshua Ryan Tabor, was arrested for waterboarding his 4-year-old daughter “because she refused to recite the alphabet.” Tabor had served as a mechanic in Iraq, and according to neighbors he had “anger management issues.” Police were called out when he was reported walking around the neighborhood wearing battle gear and threatening to break neighbors’ windows.
            When police went to the home he shared with his girlfriend, Callie Combs, they found the little girl hiding in the bathroom. She had “multiple bruises pretty much all over her body,” they reported. What follows is from the police officers’ report at the scene, as entered into court testimony. Read carefully; there’s a test question at the end…

Excerpts from the sworn statement of Deputy
Prosecuting Attorney John M. “Jack” Jones:

Callie disclosed that Joshua “beats” his four year old daughter, EJT…stating that EJT’s back was currently “covered in bruises…” Callie stated that EJT has been “wetting herself” which upsets both she and Joshua since they feel that she should be fully potty trained. Callie described that oftentimes when EJT wets her pants, Joshua makes her sit in the urine-soaked clothes until he “gives her permission to change her clothes.”
            Callie was able to coax EJT out of the bathroom to speak with Officer Eriksen. EJT appeared to be a bright articulate four-year-old of average to above intelligence…
            EJT had severe brusing on her entire back, focused near the center of her back and near her right shoulder. She had scratch marks on her back as well that were made in a downward motion. EJT also had bruising on both of her arms, legs and buttocks. She had bruising on the front and back of her neck/throat area and a large bruise on her chin. Officer Eriksen also noticed additional bruising on the thin cartilage portion of her upper ears…EJT was asked how she got the bruises and she replied, “Daddy did it”…
            Joshua…admitted that he was upset with EJT and he and Callie had held her down on the counter and submerged her head into the water three or four times until the water came around her forehead and jawline…for refusing to say her letters. Joshua stated that EJT is scared of the water and was squirming around to try to get away from the water. Joshua did not act as though he felt there was anything wrong with this form of punishment.           

So, here’s our question, and an offer:

We’ll give a free DVD of our forthcoming documentary film, Refuge, to the first person who correctly comes up with the jail sentence Joshua Tabor received – based on the above facts, and more – on the charge of “Assault of a Child in the Second Degree.” Use the “Reply/Comments” box at the end of this post.

It wasn’t a one-time thing…

So let’s get back to this week’s alleged incident of waterboarding of a child: Dr. Melvin Morse is described by the Associated Press as “a U.S. pediatrician who achieved national recognition for his research into near-death experiences involving children.” Morse has appeared on Oprah, Larry King Live, and Good Morning America. On his website, he quotes NBC News as saying “Dr Morse has done more to prove the existence of life after death than any other scientist.” 
            However, in his present life, Morse is alleged to have “disciplined” his stepdaughter four times over two years – since she was 8 or 9 years old – by holding her face under a running faucet. The AP article cited police speculation in court documents that he “may have been experimenting on his 11-year-old stepdaughter by waterboarding her.”
            Reuters cites police reports that the abuse came to light when neighbors called the police after Morse was seen dragging the child by the ankles over a gravel driveway when she refused to get out of the car. She mentioned the water punishment when she was interviewed by police, and said that her father called it “waterboarding.”
            Morse and his wife, Pauline, of Georgetown, Delaware, were arrested on assault, child endangerment, and conspiracy charges. In a telephone interview with the AP, Morse said that “the charges against him are an overreaction from authorities who were criticized in the wake of a child sex abuse scandal involving another pediatrician.” However, the AP says he ended the interview before he could be asked directly about the waterboarding allegation.

How Should We React?

I don’t want to make any assumptions about Morse’s guilt or innocence at this point, but here are some questions I think we have to ask ourselves:

  • Both cases only came to light because of the fathers’ erratic or punitive behavior in public, while the waterboarding itself (alleged, in Morse’s case) took place in private. Have there been other cases that have gone undiscovered? One case may have seemed like an aberration, but maybe it wasn’t.
  • Given the efforts of former VP Dick Cheney and others in the Bush administration to redefine waterboarding as a relatively mild form of “enhanced interrogation,” is it conceivable that water torture has become an acceptable form of discipline for some parents?
  • If that’s what’s going on, if these two cases are the tip of an iceberg, how do we even begin to respond?

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2 comments on “Torturing Children is Not Discipline

  1. Gordon Jack Schultz on said:

    These events are indeed troubling and the questions you raise need to be addressed. I would add another layer to the “normalization” of torture under the previous administration, and that is the psychological trauma which soldiers experience. As those of us who were the children of combat veterans know, our fathers could sometimes be erratic and on a hair trigger switch to anger and rage. The enormous suffering of the men of WW2, Korea, and Vietnam was barely acknowledged and the spill-over of violence into their home lives was usually thought to be caused by their own inadequacies.

    How much of the trauma that combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan come home with will end up in behavior that resembles what they experienced serving under leaders that taught that enhanced interrogation techniques were legitimate, safe, and appropriate means to getting another person to do what was expected of them?

  2. Ben Achtenberg on said:

    Good points, Jack. The possibility that Tabor may have had PTSD was raised at his trial, but as far as I know — and I was only working from news reports — without any backup documentation. There was some indication that his “anger management” issues long predated his military service.

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