What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners.
The recycled chart is the latest and most vivid evidence of the way Communist interrogation methods that the United States long described as torture became the basis for interrogations both by the military at the base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and by the Central Intelligence Agency.
It sounds like something out of the 1962 thriller film The Manchurian Candidate. And in a way it is: the idea that Chinese Communists had used inhuman ruthlessness to unlock the secrets of the brain to create the perfect truth technique would be a charming artifact of 1950s American culture, something to show alongside the hula hoop and the Jetson-like hover cars we’re all supposed to be driving in the year 2000. Instead it’s yet another exhibit in Pentagon amnesia.
Doesn’t anyone do any fact checking at the Pentagon? “Officials who drew on the SERE program [in 2002 to design American intelligence adaptation] appear to have been unaware that it had been created as a result of concern about false confessions by American prisoners.” And yet… it’s clear that Presidents Bush and Cheney wanted false information in 2002 to launch the war against Iraq. Whatever “confessions” can be wrung from the Baghdad taxi drivers who got caught up in the arrest sweeps can certainly be used to bully the growing number who oppose the war.
But what do we want, justifications or the truth? Peace in the region or protection from sins of the past? Forget that torture is inhuman: it’s also just an unreliable way of getting accurate information. It’s hard to imagine a realistic scenario where the horrible events of 9/11 could have been stopped by acts of torture by U.S. intelligence or military personnel but it’s could have been stopped if thoughtful analysts had been allowed to share information across agency lines and been focused on true knowledge and understanding.
While the images of U.S. soliders torturing iraqi prisoners at Al Grahib Prison in Badgdad have been broadcast around the world, US officials have frequently reassured us that conditions at the U.S. detention camp in Guantamano Bay, Cuba, were acceptable and in accord with the Geneva Convention’s rules for treatment of prisoners. As proof the Pentagon and Bush Administration have frequently cited the fact that the International Red Cross regularly inspects prison conditions at Guantamano. They forgot to tell us what they’ve seen.
A confidential report prepared by the International Red Cross this summer found that conditions at Guantamano Bay were “tantamount to torture.” Strong words from a cautious international body. Because of the way the IRC works, its reports are not made available to the public but instead presented to the accused government, in the hope that they will correct their practices. In predicable fashion, the Bush Adminstration privately denied any wrongdoing and kept the IRC findings secret. In a display of incredible audacity it then defended itself _from other accusations of torture_ by citing the IRC’s presence at Guantanamo, conveniently omitting the IRC’s strongly-worded criticisms. Amazing really.
The IRC report is still secret. We only know of it second-hand, from a memo obtained by the _Times_ that quotes from some of its findings (“Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse in Guantanamo“http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/30/politics/30gitmo.html, Nov 29). What kind of stuff is going on there? The _Times_ recently interviewed British prisoners who had been detained in Afghanistan and iraq and sent to Guantanamo Bay. Here’s one story:
bq. One one regular procedure was making uncooperative prisoners strip to their underwear, having them sit in a chair while shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and forcing them to endure strobe lights and loud rock and rap music played through two close loudspeakers, while the air-conditioning was turned up to maximum levels.
It’s not needles under fingernails or electrodes to the privates, but it is indeed “tantamount to torture.” While it was hard to believe these prisoners’ stories when they were first published a few months ago, they become much more credible in light of the IRC conclusions.
We still don’t know about what’s happening in the camp. The Bush Administration has the power, not to mention the duty, to immediately release International Red Cross reports. But the United States has chosen to suppress the report. No torturing government has ever admitted to its actions. Saddam Hussein himself denied wrongdoing when _he_ ran the Al Grahib prison and used it for torture. We rely on bodies like the International Red Cross to keep us honest.
There are those who defend torture by appealing to our fears, many of which are indeed grounded in reality. We’re at war, the enemy insurgents are playing dirty, Osama bin Laden broke any sort of international conventions when he sent airliners into the World Trade Center. Very true. But the United States has a mission. I believe in the idealistic notion that we should be a beacon to the world. We should always strive for the moral high ground and invite the world community to join us. We haven’t been doing that lately. Yes it’s easier to follow the lead of someone like Saddam Hussein and just torture anyone we suspect of plotting against us. But do we really want him as our role model?