“Verschärfte Vernehmung”

Ken AshfordWar on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

Jur503Earlier this month, the Republican contenders for President were asked a debate question by moderator Brit Hume:

Imagine, Hume told the candidates, that hundreds of Americans have been killed in three major suicide bombings and "a fourth attack has been averted when the attackers were captured … and taken to Guantanamo…. U.S. intelligence believes that another, larger attack is planned…. How aggressively would you interrogate" the captured suspects?

This was where the GOP candidates — with the exception of John McCain (a man who actually was tortured) and Ron Paul (a man with an actual brain and sense of morality) — dropped their pants and showed the country just how BIG they were.  What would they do?  The answers were typified by Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo:

"We’re wondering about whether water-boarding would be a — a bad thing to do? I’m looking for Jack Bauer at that time, let me tell you."

Yup, most of them would torture, just like you see on teevee (because teevee is, you know, real).

Of course, the most "presidential" of the pack — candidates like Romney and Guiliani — couldn’t bring themselves to actually use the word "torture":

"Enhanced interrogation techniques have to be used."

"Enhanced interrogation techniques".  Wink, wink.  Not "torture".  Get it?  Wink, wink. wink.

Well, Andrew Sullivan does a little research and discovers that the phrase "enhanced interrogation" was coined by — you guessed it — the Nazis:

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. The methods, as you can see above, are indistinguishable from those described as "enhanced interrogation techniques" by the president.

Sullivan continues, invoking Godwin’s Law, and making it stick:

Here’s a document from Norway’s 1948 war-crimes trials detailing the prosecution of Nazis convicted of "enhanced interrogation techniques" in the Second World War. Money quote from the cases of three Germans convicted of war crimes for "enhanced interrogation":

Between 1942 and 1945, Bruns used the method of "verschärfte Vernehmung" on 11 Norwegian citizens. This method involved the use of various implements of torture, cold baths and blows and kicks in the face and all over the body. Most of the prisoners suffered for a considerable time from the injuries received during those interrogations.

Between 1942 and 1945, Schubert gave 14 Norwegian prisoners "verschärfte Vernehmung," using various instruments of torture and hitting them in the face and over the body. Many of the prisoners suffered for a considerable time from the effects of injuries they received.

On 1st February, 1945, Clemens shot a second Norwegian prisoner from a distance of 1.5 metres while he was trying to escape. Between 1943 and 1945, Clemens employed the method of " verschäfte Vernehmung " on 23 Norwegian prisoners. He used various instruments of torture and cold baths. Some of the prisoners continued for a considerable time to suffer from injuries received at his hands.

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 homocide by torture in multiple cases.

He concludes:

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.

So, as the issue comes up in the run-up to the ’08 elections, remember one thing: "enhanced interrogation techniques" = "torture".  They’re the same thing.  One just sounds nicer to our ears, but to the person at the receiving end, there is no distinguishable difference.

And why shouldn’t we engage in torture enhanced interrogation techniques?  Because we’re not Nazis, that’s why.  Keep America safe?  Sure.  But it makes no sense to try to preserve American ideals through techniques that run counter American ideals.