Tuesday, April 21, 2009

In Adopting Harsh Tactics, No Inquiry Into Past Use

From the New York Times:

Agency officials, led by Mr. Tenet, sought interrogation advice from other countries. And, fatefully, they contacted the military unit that runs the SERE training program, the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, which gives American pilots, special operations troops and others a sample of the brutal interrogation methods they might face as prisoners of war. Mr. Tenet declined to be interviewed.


Overwhelmed with reports of potential threats and anguished that the agency had failed to stop the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Tenet and his top aides did not probe deeply into the prescription Dr. Mitchell so confidently presented: using the SERE tactics on Qaeda prisoners.

A little research on the origin of those methods would have given reason for doubt. Government studies in the 1950s found that Chinese Communist interrogators had produced false confessions from captured American pilots not with some kind of sinister “brainwashing” but with crude tactics: shackling the Americans to force them to stand for hours, keeping them in cold cells, disrupting their sleep and limiting access to food and hygiene.

“The Communists do not look upon these assaults as ‘torture,’ ” one 1956 study concluded. “But all of them produce great discomfort, and lead to serious disturbances of many bodily processes; there is no reason to differentiate them from any other form of torture.”

Worse, the study found that under such abusive treatment, a prisoner became “malleable and suggestible, and in some instances he may confabulate.”

More here.

Okay, to a great extent, while quite interesting, this is all beside the point: it doesn't matter whether torture is "effective" or not; torture is immoral, something which, in theory, greatly differentiates us from terrorists. Having said that, this kind of incompetence is utterly par for the course.

Not long after the Abu Ghraib scandal hit the US press, at least one lefty writer observed that the kind of torture being used there and at Gitmo greatly resembled what the Chinese and North Koreans were doing back in the 50s to extract the above mentioned "false confessions." So it's been known, if not verified, for half a decade that the US has been using an "interrogation technique" purposely designed to elicit incorrect information. The only mystery has been how, exactly, such a strange and counterproductive program came to pass.

Now we know. Apparently, the whole attitude inside the White House was "we gotta torture; we gotta torture; who's got some torture for us?" In this atmosphere of panic-for-torture, it was easy for the first loud voice available to step up and command the discussion. Unfortunately, for the "grownups" of the Cheney administration, that voice turned out to be a whack-job psychologist who had been training US servicemen to resist Cold War style coercion. So we immediately went about using a torture technique absolutely guaranteed to get its victims to tell us what they thought we wanted to hear, rather than the truth.

I can't wait for the release of the memos Cheney is demanding that will show us all how his brutal torture regime "worked." My bet is that a lot of these guys confessed to kidnapping the Lindbergh baby and masterminding the Lufthansa heist. But I guess we'll see.