A Times Editorial

On torture, we're our own enemy

We called it torture and brainwashing when the Communists did it to our soldiers in Korea. Then the Bush administration adopted their methods wholesale for use on terrorist suspects.

A Senate committee recently unearthed a 1957 chart cataloguing the coercive interrogation methods used by the Chinese Communists during the Korean War to extract false confessions from American troops. It turns out that military trainers at Guantanamo borrowed it for tutorials on how to bring physical pressures to bear in interrogations. What was once designed to get American prisoners to falsely confess to atrocities for Communist propaganda purposes was used by our side to break suspected terrorists in U.S. custody.

There is ample evidence that our government, under President Bush, has strayed from basic tenets of humane prisoner treatment. The CIA has even admitted waterboarding three suspects. But the 1957 document is a stark reminder of how far we have gone toward emulating the enemies we once considered cruel and malevolent.

The chart's history is fascinating. It was initially created to help prepare American military personnel facing possible enemy capture for the harsh treatment they might have to endure. The chart was titled "Communist Coercive Methods for Eliciting Individual Compliance," but that headline was dropped for its use as interrogation curriculum. The chart lists techniques such as exposure, exploitation of wounds and sleep deprivation that, it says, induces debilitation and exhaustion and thereby weaken a prisoner's mental and physical ability to resist. These are some of the techniques reportedly used by the military and CIA at overseas prisons and Guantanamo.

Beyond the damage prisoner abuse has done to America's international standing, the potential consequences for American soldiers is truly frightening. Someday captured U.S. soldiers could be subjected to these same methods by an enemy who holds up America's own training manuals to justify torture. Just as the Bush administration may claim that exposing a prisoner to extreme cold is not torture, so can they.

On torture, we're our own enemy 07/13/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 16, 2008 7:28pm]

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