May 31st, 2007
Andrew Sullivan points out that the phrase, and the practice of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” was utilized by the Nazis:
The phrase “Verschärfte Vernehmung” is German for “enhanced interrogation”. Other translations include “intensified interrogation” or “sharpened interrogation”. 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. As you can see from the Gestapo memo, moreover, the Nazis were adamant that their “enhanced interrogation techniques” would be carefully restricted and controlled, monitored by an elite professional staff, of the kind recommended by Charles Krauthammer, and strictly reserved for certain categories of prisoner. At least, that was the original plan….
In Norway, we actually have a 1948 court case that weighs whether “enhanced interrogation” using the methods approved by president Bush amounted to torture. The proceedings are fascinating, with specific reference to the hypothermia used in Gitmo, and throughout interrogation centers across the field of conflict. The Nazi defense of the techniques is almost verbatim that of the Bush administration…
And what was this defense, used by Nazi torturers in a 1948 Norwegian war crimes trial?
(c) That the acts of torture in no case resulted in death. Most of the injuries inflicted were slight and did not result in permanent disablement.
Yoo would be proud.
Sullivan is sure to clarify what he is and is not claiming:
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.
Being an opponent of the death penalty, I certainly don’t support a punishment of death for today’s torturers. But punishment of some kind is needed to reestablish the norm that torture isn’t acceptable. Such punishment may not abolish torture by the US government. But the country, and the world, is better off when torture is shameful and criminal and can only be performed in secret. Given the propensity for governments to torture, that may be the best we can accomplish at the moment. It isn’t everything we want. But it isn’t nothing either.