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Defending Enhanced Interrogation Techniques


Before there were “enhanced interrogation techniques,” there was verschärfte Vernehmung, (which means “enhanced interrogation techniques”) developed by the Gestapo and the Sicherheitsdienst in 1937 and subject to a series of stringent rules. Now, as we have seen previously, there were extremely important differences between the Gestapo’s interrogation rules and those approved by the Bush Administration. That’s right – the Bush Administration rules are generally more severe, and include a number of practices that the Gestapo expressly forbade. But today Andrew Sullivan takes a look at the criminal prosecutions that followed the war in which Gestapo officers who used enhanced interrogation techniques were prosecuted for war crimes as a result. What arguments did they advance?
Well, Dick Cheney and Rudy Giuliani will be pleased to know that they haven’t missed any major points.

The ticking time-bomb exception, and the need for better intelligence about an insurgency – the same defense as the GOP establishment has used for exactly the same techniques – hypothermia, stress positions, sensory deprivation, etc. – in the US and Iraq. The terms and specific methods used are the same for the Gestapo’s “verschärfte Vernehmung,” “Third Degree,” and Bush’s “enhanced interrogation.”

HEYDRICH told him that he reserved for himself the final approval of such measures in Germany and he would see to it that they were applied only in the most urgent cases. BEST was shown Document PS-1531, US-248 which enumerated the severities of verschärfte Vernehmung interrogations. He remarked that the specified punishments in this document went further than the measures permitted by the German police. His office took disciplinary action against members of the GESTAPO and criminal police who committed excesses. He was, therefore, able to check whether the methods of interrogation employed were kept within reasonable limits. Offenses were punished by normal disciplinary measures and through the ordinary courts.

In cross-examination BEST was shown a document which stated that the commander of the security police and SD was authorized to use verschärfte Vernehmung in Kracow. He said it was his impression that this type of interrogation was adopted in order to discover the underground movements in Poland, which had come into being at that time. Describing the use of verschärfte Vernehmung in Denmark, the witness HOFFMANN reiterated that third degree methods were based on a legal decree which authorized them. Disciplinary action was always taken against those concerned with excesses. In general, third degree was applied only when the saving of German lives required it. In this connection he instanced the use of such methods in order to find the whereabouts of arms and explosives belonging to the underground movement. The GESTAPO in general believed that other methods of interrogation, such as playing off political factions against each other, were much more effective than third degree methods. Verschärfte Vernehmung had to be approved by his head office and approximately 20 were allowed for Copenhagen (see reference to the case of Colonel TIMROTH).

The defense failed, and the accused were convicted. Note that the Germans were able to demonstrate a process of maintaining discipline and punishing officers who disobeyed the rules of verschärfte Vernehmung. By contrast, the Bush Administration has arguably brought a single case of prosecution, against hundreds of documented cases of extreme abuse – including a great number documented by the FBI. So while there are distinctions to be drawn between the German practice of verschärfte Vernehmung and the Bush Administration’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” a good many of these distinctions cut in favor of the Germans.

And let’s recall: what was the sentence the Norwegian war crimes court deemed appropriate for those convicted of the use of verschärfte Vernehmung? Death.

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