“I never compromised my humanity.”

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 doesn’t represent the totality of Allied practices re captured enemies in World War II, which though famously a “good war” 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.”

14 thoughts on ““I never compromised my humanity.”

  1. Maha,
    Not just gratifying – but a welcome sexual release.

    These are some seriously sick people. They don’t want to play chess, they want to play “Doctor! Dr. Josef Mengele…

    May God help them – I won’t!

  2. Well, you know, I had what might have been an epiphany once, while reading what Goldsmith (I hope that’s the right name) had to say about the Bush administration.

    They started pushing to do “everything they could” to avoid another 9/11 attack.

    (frustrated-anger: Goldsmith talked about their being concerned about being “blamed” for a second attack. As if who got blamed would matter!)

    And I realized that Bush could have asked his lawyers to “figure out what I can do, legally”. And they came up with opinions that would have given him a legal footing to claim the ability to do a lot of things. And he then said “go do them.”

    Because, if you ask “what can I do?” then, you learn that you can torture, if you don’t torture, you’re not doing *everything you can do*.

    I don’t like this kind of reasoning; I’m sure it oversimplifies things a great deal. But it fits with Bush’s self-view as “the decider”, the guy who sets policy, and then his job is done. If torture doesn’t work as well as not torturing, well, that’s not *his* fault; he didn’t order people to use torture when it wasn’t the best method. But he did tell people to do everything they could, and then dumped a bunch of questionable tools in their laps.

  3. And you’d think any supporter of Bush’s interrogation “methods” would feel ashamed, wouldn’t you?

    Absolutely not! Shame is not in the moral inventory of any Bush supporter. In order to experience shame a person needs an honest interaction with a fixed moral foundation. When you have people like Captain Ed or Sista Toldjah who can allow a corruption of honesty by entertaining irrelevent ideas in the process of forming morality —they can’t know shame. What value is the knowledge of someone else’s belief in 72 virgins, or a quick trip to paradise in determining whether torture is morally right or wrong? And how can they know shame when they intentionally shield themselves from the element it’s comprised of.

  4. maha, great post, but I have one very minor quibble: it sounded to me like Baer said, “…the intelligence is drivel.”

  5. Referencing to the Capt Ed bit:

    His stated inference is that the great brown menace we’re fighting is uncivilized. Their customs are indeed different from ours (& amongst themselves they vary greatly as well) but the reason they’re fighting us is that, you know, WE INVADED THEIR COUNTRY.

    Bin Laden had nothing to do with Iraq, of course. Iraqis were not planning, much less carrying out, terrorist attacks in the US. Bin Laden is a religious extremist, not the leader of a country. And at the time he & his followers carried out their attacks, they were a very small group, right? Largely marginalized around the world & numbering about a thousand fanatics, give or take? I seem to recall that from a BBC documentary that never got any air time over here. How many Americans realize how much we’ve sacrificed for about a thousand fanatics (whom we have not been able to crush anyway)? Hundreds of thousands dead, millions displaced, countries ruined, our moral standing pissed away … for a thousand religious wackos.

    And yet Bush is still president, despite an unprecedented level of incompetence coupled with a resounding lack of compliance with the rule of law (either national or international). This has nothing to do with being a Republican or a Democrat, you know? It’s about doing what’s right for a country that has gone drastically, horribly wrong. And the failure of the elected officials in our government to deal with this assault on democracy is something that I fear we shall never recover from.

    There’s one other thing I’d like to mention. After WWII, many low level German soldiers who took part in rounding up Jews said basically that they had no trouble doing so because after years of being fed Goebbels’ poisonous propaganda they simply didn’t really think of Jews as people.

    Now the United States has people in the military who are so misguided (or brainwashed) that they feel that they’re fighting against the forces of Satan in Iraq, conflating the Devil with a religion not their own, and dehumanizing every Iraqi in the process. And people like Captain Ed here on the “homefront” dismiss them as uncivilized, as somehow lesser beings than us, comfortable in the conceit that he’s a patriot and not something much cruder and uglier.

    I am sickened by what’s happened to my country. 🙁

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  8. “…included summary executions of Japanese prisoners. After they and/or their comrades were found to have tortured Americans to death.”

    Do you think Bushies will EVER connect that statement to what THEY THEMSELVES are doing? The guy quoted above obviously didn’t (in fact, he thought he was making exactly the opposite point!).

    For any Bushies who happen to be reading: In WWII, when we found that our soldiers were being mistreated as prisoners, we felt justified in treating the enemy in kind. Now, it is known to all that WE mistreat (understatement) our enemy prisoners…

    Do you think they will get it now? I fear they won’t…

  9. In WWII, when we found that our soldiers were being mistreated as prisoners, we felt justified in treating the enemy in kind. Now, it is known to all that WE mistreat (understatement) our enemy prisoners…

    I had an uncle who was a POW in Japan in WWII, and he was treated horribly. Turns out that the Japanese guards believed that Americans tortured Japanese prisoners, and so thought they were justified. Of course, then we didn’t torture prisoners. The Japanese were being told this so that they’d fight to the death and not surrender, I believe.

    On the flip side, once I spoke with a young woman who told me her grandfather had been a POW in WWII. Oh, that must have been hard for him, I said. Not at all, she replied. He had been in the Italian army, and Americans took him prisoner. He thought it was the luckiest break he ever got. He liked the Americans so much, he immigrated to the U.S. after the War.

    That’s the country we used to be.

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