Friday, April 11, 2008

Verschärfte Vernehmung Revisited

(ABC News Photo Illustration)
“Tell me something I don’t know,” is a regular feature of The Chris Matthews Show. On Sunday night, Andrew Sullivan responded:
The latest revelations on the torture front show—the memo from John Yoo—as well as revelations from Phillippe Sands’ book, mean that Donald Rumsfeld, David Addington and John Yoo should not leave the United States any time soon. They will be at some point indicted for war crimes. They deserve to be. (Check out the video.)
I probably should have, but I didn’t know who Andrew Sullivan was, nor did I know Phillippe Sands. Soon enough, I learned that Sullivan is a political scientist blogger on The Atlantic Online and a senior editor at The New Republic. I’ll get to what else I learned a little later .

Phillippe Sands is author of a book to be released on May 18, 2008, titled Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values. I obviously haven’t read the book, but I found a review on Amazon by someone who had, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. This is what he said about Sands’ book:
"Philippe Sands has uncovered the proper assignment of responsibility for torture and cruel and unusual punishment administered by the U.S. in the so-called Global War on Terror. Read this book to learn who made these decisions. More importantly, read it to learn how under George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney America abandoned its strongest pillar of power--its own integrity." (Bold is mine)
Back to Andrew Sullivan: when I looked at his website, I found an article detailing a nightmare for a person of conscience. The phrase "Verschärfte Vernehmung" is German for "enhanced interrogation". Other translations include "intensified interrogation" or "sharpened interrogation". According to Sullivan,
It's a phrase that appears to have been concocted in 1937, to describe a form of torture that would leave no marks, and hence save the embarrassment pre-war Nazi officials were experiencing as their wounded torture victims ended up in court.
As is obvious in an English translation of Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller’s directive, the methods are indistinguishable from those described as "enhanced interrogation techniques" by President Bush.
It is not only the use of hypothermia, authorized by Bush and Rumsfeld, that will chill you as you read Sullivan’s analysis; it is also the truth of the assertion that under Bush and Cheney, “America abandoned its strongest pillar of power—its own integrity.”

Sullivan cites a court case from Norway in 1948 that weighed whether “enhanced interrogation” using methods approved by President Bush amounted to torture. He reviews the charges against three Germans convicted of war crimes for “enhanced interrogation” and observes:
Freezing prisoners to near-death, repeated beatings, long forced-standing, waterboarding, cold showers in air-conditioned rooms, stress positions [Arrest mit Verschaerfung], withholding of medicine and leaving wounded or sick prisoners alone in cells for days on end - all these have occurred at US detention camps under the command of president George W. Bush. Over a hundred documented deaths have occurred in these interrogation sessions. The Pentagon itself has conceded homicide by torture in multiple cases.
Sullivan cites the criterion to define torture in 1948:
In deciding the degree of punishment, the Court found it decisive that the defendants had inflicted serious physical and mental suffering on their victims, and did not find sufficient reason for a mitigation of the punishment in accordance with the provisions laid down in Art. 5 of the Provisional Decree of 4th May, 1945. The Court came to the conclusion that such acts, even though they were committed with the connivance of superiors in rank or even on their orders, must be regarded and punished as serious war crimes.
Moreover, he points out that the victims were not in uniform:
And the Nazis tried to argue, just as John Yoo did, that this made torturing them legit. The victims were paramilitary Norwegians, operating as an insurgency, against an occupying force. And the torturers had also interrogated some prisoners humanely.
I wish every American citizen could read Sullivan’s account. It is important to include the qualifications he made in his conclusion:
Critics will no doubt say I am accusing the Bush administration of being Hitler. I'm not. There is no comparison between the political system in Germany in 1937 and the U.S. in 2007. What I am reporting is a simple empirical fact: the interrogation methods approved and defended by this president are not new. Many have been used in the past. The very phrase used by the president to describe torture-that-isn't-somehow-torture - "enhanced interrogation techniques" - is a term originally coined by the Nazis. The techniques are indistinguishable. The methods were clearly understood in 1948 as war-crimes. The punishment for them was death.
This brings us back to the uncomfortable present. On Wednesday, we learned on ABC News that President Bush’s most senior advisers discussed in detail and approved "enhanced interrogation techniques" of top al Qaeda suspects by the Central Intelligence Agency. While the other principals defended their “tough tactics,” John Ashcroft saw the implications when he said,
"Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."
One of the most difficult problems to be faced by a new Democratic president and congress will be to decide what to do about this. Will the new president and congress breathe a sigh of relief that they are gone and sweep this unpleasant reality under the rug? I think we can be assured that as he leaves office President Bush will do all he can to protect himself and his administration from criminal charges.

I don’t think a change in administration in itself will be sufficient to regain what has been lost of the American soul or re-establish credibility with our friends and enemies. Are there indictments for war crimes in our future, as Sullivan predicts? What do you think?

NOTE: We might get to hear how Clinton and Obama view the events on torture as they unfolded this week. I received a note Thursday from NRCAT (National Religious Campaign Against Torture) with word of a “Compassion Forum” to be broadcast on CNN on Sunday, April 13 at 8 p.m. EDT.
All three presidential candidates have been invited to discuss urgent moral issues that matter to people of faith: climate change, genocide, torture, poverty, and HIV/AIDS. Sens. Clinton and Obama have accepted invitations to appear at the Compassion Forum. John McCain said he would not able to be present. The message went on to say that torture will likely be the subject of one of at least one of the questions.

This is all I know about the program. If you have more information, please add it in a comment.
- Milo

1 comment:

Don Singsaas said...

It is disheartening to see how a few misguided people can undermine the values this country was established on.