The long life of 1950s sci-fi

Part of the play­book for Amer­i­can tor­ture in Iraq and Guan­tá­namo comes from Chi­nese inter­ro­ga­tion meth­ods used against cap­tured Amer­i­cans dur­ing the Cold War.

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.