Not Too Hot to Feel Disgusted

I really really wish this NY Times article was from The Onion...I mean, look at that headline. I know it's not surprising, but it should be.

My brain is exploding, and not in a good way.

In Adopting Harsh Tactics, No Inquiry Into Past Use

Published: April 21, 2009

[...] In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.

This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.

According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.

Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia. [...]

Leaked to the news media months after they were first used, the C.I.A.’s interrogation methods would darken the country’s reputation, blur the moral distinction between terrorists and the Americans who hunted them, bring broad condemnation from Western allies and become a ready-made defense for governments accused of torture. The blowback has only intensified since Justice Department legal memos released last week showed that two prisoners were waterboarded 266 times and that C.I.A. interrogators were ordered to waterboard one of the captives despite their belief that he had no more information to divulge. [...]

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. [*]

* Hmmm, these methods sure do sound familiar. Even if you have a bacterium-sized heart, and can't see why torture is wrong---does it really take a genius to figure out that people will say anything if they think it will get them out of hell?

Alex Gibney's Oscar-winning documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side, is incredibly disturbing---it had me sobbing in that angry/devastated way---but I think it should be required viewing in all U.S. high schools.

PS---I was really moved by the interview at the end of the film, with Alex Gibney's father, Frank Gibney. Here's an excerpt from a Six Questions interview at Harper's:

3. Some of the most compelling footage of the film comes in the closing credits in which you include scenes from an interview you conducted with your father, who was a Navy interrogator, and who was obviously distressed about the changes in military tradition that the Bush Administration introduced. Can you tell us about your discussions with your father and how they influenced the film?

My father—Frank Gibney — was a big influence on my life. A longtime journalist and old “Asia hand,” he had learned Japanese during the war so that he could interrogate Japanese prisoners — something he did on Okinawa, one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific campaign in World War II.

At the time, there had been many reports of Japanese torturing Americans. Further, there was a pervasive view that the Japanese were a new kind of enemy, one that was so fanatical that some of its soldiers (kamikaze) would use airplanes to fly suicide missions. (Sound familiar?) But my father and his fellow interrogators were not taught “coercive interrogation techniques.” They didn’t waterboard anyone as a matter of policy. Just the opposite, they practiced rapport building techniques that were extremely effective in eliciting information despite the supposed “fanatical nature” of the prisoners.

Most important, my father felt that, by not engaging in retribution, he was adhering to a higher standard. “We never forgot,” he says in the film, “that behind the facade of wartime hatreds, there was a central rule of law which people abided by. It was something we believed in. It was what made America different.”

As a former Navy interrogator, he was furious about the Abu Ghraib scandal. As more details emerged about the way that torture appeared to be part of a wide-ranging policy, he was even more enraged. He encouraged me to take on this project. While I was working on “Taxi,” I visited him in Santa Barbara just before he died. One day, he said: “Go get your video camera; I have something I want to say.” We had to turn off the oxygen machine so he would be audible. A foreign policy conservative, he raged against Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush for upending the very values that he had defended as a soldier. His anger, and his belief that we could — and did — do better offered a ray of hope in a bleak film.

1 comment:

Ms. Sushi said...

I cannot believe they're not going to prosecute anyone involved. It's disgraceful.

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