You must read this Washington Post article about a group of World War II veterans who were interrogators of Nazi prisoners. Petula Dvorak writes,
When about two dozen veterans got together yesterday for the first time since the 1940s, many of the proud men lamented the chasm between the way they conducted interrogations during the war and the harsh measures used today in questioning terrorism suspects.
Back then, they and their commanders wrestled with the morality of bugging prisoners’ cells with listening devices. They felt bad about censoring letters. They took prisoners out for steak dinners to soften them up. They played games with them.
“We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture,” said Henry Kolm, 90, an MIT physicist who had been assigned to play chess in Germany with Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess.
Blunt criticism of modern enemy interrogations was a common refrain at the ceremonies held beside the Potomac River near Alexandria. Across the river, President Bush defended his administration’s methods of detaining and questioning terrorism suspects during an Oval Office appearance.
Several of the veterans, all men in their 80s and 90s, denounced the controversial techniques. And when the time came for them to accept honors from the Army’s Freedom Team Salute, one veteran refused, citing his opposition to the war in Iraq and procedures that have been used at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
“I feel like the military is using us to say, ‘We did spooky stuff then, so it’s okay to do it now,’ ” said Arno Mayer, 81, a professor of European history at Princeton University.
When Peter Weiss, 82, went up to receive his award, he commandeered the microphone and gave his piece.
“I am deeply honored to be here, but I want to make it clear that my presence here is not in support of the current war,” said Weiss, chairman of the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy and a human rights and trademark lawyer in New York City. …
…”We did it with a certain amount of respect and justice,” said John Gunther Dean, 81, who became a career Foreign Service officer and ambassador to Denmark.
“During the many interrogations, I never laid hands on anyone,” said George Frenkel, 87, of Kensington. “We extracted information in a battle of the wits. I’m proud to say I never compromised my humanity.”
If you’re a history buff, you’ll want to read the whole thing. Fascinating stuff. And you’d think any supporter of Bush’s interrogation “methods” would feel ashamed, wouldn’t you?
Well, forget that. Apparently the World War II guys didn’t have to rely on torture because they were dealing with a better class of people than interrogators must handle today.
That’s right. Nazis were nicer. Captain Ed explains,
It must be said, however, that they faced a different enemy in a different war. The Germans fought to expand territory through traditional warfare, at least as arrayed against the US and the West. While they conducted sabotage missions in the US through espionage, they did not use terrorist infiltrators to attempt to kill thousands of American civilians. They also did not face religious extremists who believed that death brought them to Allah and 72 waiting virgins for taking out women and children. One can make a case that the civilized techniques of PO Box 1142 worked because their detainees also believed themselves civilized and members of the Western culture.
More civilized? Um, the Holocaust? Ring any bells?
The eternally dim Sister Toldjah asked,
Does the Post believe interrogators would have gotten the same information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed by taking him out to a steak dinner and/or playing games with him instead of waterboarding him (an aggressive interrogation tactic which, btw, saved lives)?
Of course, it’s possible interrogators would have gotten different information had KSM not been tortured. They might have, for example, gotten accurate information.
Yesterday on Countdown, Keith Olbermann interviewed former CIA Case Officer Robert Baer about this New York Times article on secret “interrogation” methods. I can’t figure out how to link to the MSNBC video directly, but you can find it on the Countdown page; click on “Bush’s Torture Woes.” Here’s a transcript I made from the video:
BAER: Keith, I’ve spent 21 years in the Middle East working for the CIA, I’ve seen the results of torture, in countries from Egypt to Syria to Saudi Arabia, and the intelligence is dribble. It leads to false leads. People will say anything if the pain is bad enough. It is useless, and I reiterate it is useless. I’ve spent three years now visiting Israeli jails talking to Hamas prisoners, talking to Shin Bet, their intelligence service, and they agree it’s useless. They use traditional police techniques, interrogations, legal interrogations, and they get more out of an investigation than torture.
OLBERMANN: As a professional and an experienced researcher now, I imagine something in the Times story yesterday might have been the most disturbing thing here, just on a professional, what in the world are they doing level, to you, the case of Mohammed, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was severely interrogated over a period of about two weeks, but the problem was as the Times put it, the initial interrogators were not experts on Mr. Mohammed’s background or al Qaeda. Instead of beating him up, does it shock you that the agency could have been much more easily served by having some guy who knew what the hell he was talking about and ask him questions? Because, obviously, a lot of these statements proved to be wildly false, and as you said produced extraordinarily misleading lines of inquiry and perhaps, who knows what else, besides inquiry.
BAER: We know that he lied about his participation in the murder of Danny Pearl, the Wall Street Journal journalist who was killed in Pakistan, his head cut off. He just made that up, that he wielded the knife. He did that under torture. The problem I have is that if he’s our main source of information on what happened on 9/11, and it was extracted by torture, which everyone will tell you is unreliable, I’m not quite sure what happened on 9/11. We’re just adding conspiracy theories when we get information like this, and that’s not to mention that we’re trying to win the hearts and minds of people in the Middle East, but that’s a moral question that someone should answer.
Once the Bushies are pried out of the White House it may take us years to unravel what’s real and what isn’t.
Finally, that wart on the buttocks of humanity known as Jules Crittendon doesn’t even bother making excuses. He just goes right into ridicule mode. But adds —
[T]he apparently genteel program at Fort Hood doesnâ€™t represent the totality of Allied practices re captured enemies in World War II, which though famously a â€œgood warâ€ also included summary executions of Japanese prisoners. After they and/or their comrades were found to have tortured Americans to death.
— which exemplifies the problem, I think. Righties cannot separate vengeance from interrogation. They defend torture not because it’s useful, but because it’s gratifying.
Update: This is sortakinda related — “I Survived Blackwater.”