Pogo was a comic-strip figure created by Walt Kelly which flourished in newspaper syndication in the era between Truman and Nixon. The title character was a ferral denizen of the great Okefenokee Swamp that straddles the Georgia-Florida border, but he was of course a zoomorphic creation with distinctly human attributes. Kelly had Pogo run for president as a perennial candidate, and he used his strip to lampoon the nation’s political culture. The one entry in the Pogo series that always stuck with me was the one that ran on Earth Day in 1971, at the height of the Nixon era. “We have met the enemy, and he is us,” Pogo says.
Many of the controversial interrogation tactics used against terror suspects in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo were modeled on techniques the U.S. feared that the Communists themselves might use against captured American troops during the Cold War, according to a little-noticed, highly classified Pentagon report released several days ago. Originally developed as training for elite special forces at Fort Bragg under the “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape” program, otherwise known as SERE, tactics such as sleep deprivation, isolation, sexual humiliation, nudity, exposure to extremes of cold and stress positions were part of a carefully monitored survival training program for personnel at risk of capture by Soviet or Chinese forces, all carried out under the supervision of military psychologists.
This troubling disclosure was made in the blandly titled report, “Review of DoD-Directed Investigations of Detainee Abuse”, which for the first time sets forth the origins as well as new details of many of the abusive interrogation techniques that led to scandals at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere — techniques that some critics contend the Pentagon still has not gone far enough in explicitly banning. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the findings “deeply troubling,” and signaled his intention to hold hearings later this year on the interrogation methods it describes.
The report, completed last August but only declassified and made public on May 18, suggests that the abusive techniques stemmed from a much more formal process than the Defense Department has previously acknowledged. By 2002 the Pentagon was looking for an interrogation paradigm to use on what it had designated as “unlawful combatants” captured in the “war on terror.” These individuals, many taken prisoner in Afghanistan, were initially brought to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo, although others were subsequently hidden away in CIA secret prisons or turned over to U.S.-allied governments known to practice torture. That same year, the commander of the detention facility at Guantanamo began using the abusive “counter resistance” techniques adopted from SERE on prisoners at the base, and according to the Pentagon report SERE military psychologists were on hand to help.
So in the last two weeks we have established, via Andrew Sullivan, that the name “enhanced interrogation techniques,” is something that the Bush Administration borrowed from a 1937 Gestapo memorandum. And the techniques themselves are largely a U.S. study of what we expected the Soviets and their allies would do to U.S. prisoners. Let’s sum this up: We have met the enemy, and he is us. Or perhaps: We have met the enemy, and he is the Bush Administration?