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One of the truly disturbing aspects of the Bush Administration’s program of “enhanced interrogation techniques” is that there’s nothing new about them. Each of the techniques is well known; each has a very long legacy. The practice of waterboarding, for instance, was closely associated with the Spanish Inquisition, and appears diagramed and explained in woodcut prints from the early sixteenth century. Similarly, the practice we know as the “cold cell”–or hypothermia–was carefully developed by the Soviet NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB, as a means of preparing prisoners for interrogation. The Soviets used the motto “no blood, no shame,” and the same motto recently emerged in units of the American armed forces in Iraq.
Many of these techniques were also practiced during World War II and the years leading up to it. They were certainly not practiced by the United States, however. The practitioners were German, particularly the Geheime Staatspolizei or Gestapo and the Sicherheitsdienst or SD, the intelligence arm of the SS. The procedures were known as “enhanced interrogation techniques,” or in German, verschärfte Vernehmung.
Today, Andrew Sullivan reproduces the Gestapo memorandum which set the guidelines for verschärfte Vernehmung. One of the most striking things about it is that, compared with what Dick Cheney and company want, it is mild. The Gestapo memo forbids waterboarding, hypothermia and several other techniques that the Bush Administration permits. And it imposed strict limits on how these “enhanced techniques” could be used – requiring oversight and permits. But what happened in practice? As usual, there was a race to the bottom and the obstacles put in place were quickly overcome.
Sullivan reviews the Norwegian war crimes trials in which the use of verschärfte Vernehmung was established as a war crime, and a capital offense. He includes testimony of a Dachau survivor describing treatment which is within the limits of the “program” prescribed by President Bush. In my mind, this is mandatory reading, and more evidence of the depraved thinking of U.S. leaders who have pushed the “program” forward. Is it reductio ad Hitleram to even raise this? That will be the dismissive charge. And on this point, I’m afraid, we need to insist that the accused stand their ground and defend themselves on the merits:
Critics will no doubt say I am accusing the Bush administration of being Hitler. I’m not. There is no comparison between the political system in Germany in 1937 and the U.S. in 2007. What I am reporting is a simple empirical fact: the interrogation methods approved and defended by this president are not new. Many have been used in the past. The very phrase used by the president to describe torture-that-isn’t-somehow-torture–”enhanced interrogation techniques”–is a term originally coined by the Nazis. The techniques are indistinguishable. The methods were clearly understood in 1948 as war-crimes. The punishment for them was death.
More from Scott Horton:
No Comment — March 28, 2014, 12:32 pm
On CIA secrecy, torture, and war-making powers
No Comment — November 4, 2013, 5:17 pm
An expert panel concludes that the Pentagon and the CIA ordered physicians to violate the Hippocratic Oath
No Comment — August 12, 2013, 7:55 am
How will the Obama Administration handle Edward Snowden’s case in the long term?
Amount of trash left in New York City’s Central Park by people attending Earth Day festivities, in tons:
High ocean acidity from rising sea temperatures was causing the ears of baby damselfish to develop improperly; without ears, baby damselfish cannot hear (and thus locate) the reefs where they are meant to grow up.
Colombian author and Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez died at age 87. “You’d be at a bordello,” said the journalist Francisco Goldman, “and the woman would have one book by her bed and it would be Gabo’s.”
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