Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

today in torture

Today in Torture: A Race to Approve Interrogations, With No Sense of History

The Bush administration rush-ordered approval of harsh interrogation tactics without bothering to learn about their controversial histories — lessons that might have given a hint as to how the methods might be received when they became public. According to the Times, many of the tactics (like waterboarding) were derived from the training given to participants in SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape), a military program designed to teach American soldiers to withstand the kind of torture they might suffer at the hands of enemy Communists during the Korean War. Waterboarding in particular has a rich history, dating back to the Spanish Inquisition, and being a favorite of Cambodian dictator Pol Pot. The logic went: if Americans were being subjected to these methods, how could they be illegal? Because of the rush to approve these tactics in the face of terrifying and unknown threats after 9/11, the Bush administration met in small groups (some including Bush himself) to authorize it. “It was described as a program that was safe and necessary, that would be closely monitored by medical personnel,” a former senior official told the Times. “And it was very much in the context of the threat streams that were just eye-popping at the time.”

Had more research been done into the origin of the tactics, officials may have been better briefed as to their level of success, opponents say:

A little research on the origin of those methods would have given reason for doubt. 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.


According to The Wall Street Journal, highly placed Bush administration lawyers had been pushing to give the executive office more power in matters like these, and to liberate it from the obligations of international treaties since before 9/11 even happened. After, these supporters found the Department of Defense easy to convince and eager to enact the policy. In fact, the Washington Post reports that the DoD was preparing to use the controversial tactics months before they were approved, and even well before they even had any terrorists in custody.

In Adopting Harsh Tactics, No Inquiry Into Their Past Use [NYT]
Interrogation Views Spread With Help of Bush Aides [WSJ]
Harsh Tactics Readied Before Their Approval [WP]

0