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.