Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Importing Torture from China

Not only are we importing every imaginable product from China these days, we’re also importing their old torture techniques. The NY Times reports:

The military trainers who came to Guantánamo Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class on a chart showing the effects of “coercive management techniques” for possible use on prisoners, including “sleep deprivation,” “prolonged constraint,” and “exposure.”

What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners.


Of course, there is one obvious difference: when China uses these techniques, we call it torture; when we use them, they are “enhanced interrogation techniques.” And China used them against POWs; we use them against “enemy combatants” (because that term is not mentioned in the Geneva conventions, thus absolving us of any need to follow those conventions).

The 1957 article from which the chart was copied was entitled “Communist Attempts to Elicit False Confessions From Air Force Prisoners of War” and written by Albert D. Biderman, a sociologist then working for the Air Force, who died in 2003. Mr. Biderman had interviewed American prisoners returning from North Korea, some of whom had been filmed by their Chinese interrogators confessing to germ warfare and other atrocities.

Those orchestrated confessions led to allegations that the American prisoners had been “brainwashed,” and provoked the military to revamp its training to give some military personnel a taste of the enemies’ harsh methods to inoculate them against quick capitulation if captured.

In 2002, the training program, known as SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, became a source of interrogation methods both for the C.I.A. and the military. In what critics describe as a remarkable case of historical amnesia, officials who drew on the SERE program appear to have been unaware that it had been created as a result of concern about false confessions by American prisoners.

Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said after reviewing the 1957 article that “every American would be shocked” by the origin of the training document.

“What makes this document doubly stunning is that these were techniques to get false confessions,” Mr. Levin said. “People say we need intelligence, and we do. But we don’t need false intelligence.”

So why would the Chinese want to deliberately induce false confessions? For propaganda value, of course. They get a captured G.I. to “admit” to being part of a team that was trying to do some horrible thing and then you publicize that the American soldiers admit to doing that horrible thing. Precisely the same reason we use such false confessions obtained through torture, to keep the populace alarmed and afraid and give them the person to blame that fear and alarm on.