Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Korean connection to waterboarding

In a discussion about how waterboarding and other forms of torture were so quickly and enthusiastically embraced by the Bush Administration, the New York Times provides a bit of Korea-related background to this controversial technique for getting the enemy to talk:
... no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.

According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.

Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia.

They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective. Nor were most of the officials aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading C.I.A. officials to use the harsh methods had never conducted a real interrogation, or that the Justice Department lawyer most responsible for declaring the methods legal had idiosyncratic ideas that even the Bush Justice Department would later renounce.

The process was “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm,” a former C.I.A. official said.
Ouch. Harsh words, and a good reason why people should pay attention to things written about Korea. Hint. Hint.

I myself was a little surprised to hear that the Americans thought the North Koreans and the Chinese would use waterboarding on the Americans they'd captured. If Hollywood has taught us anything about American POWs during the Korean War, it's that entire platoons would be brainwashed into believing that their NCO saved their lives, which would warrant him receiving the Medal of Honor when they all return to the US. Years after the Korean War is over, the NCO would become an intelligence officer and be used as a sleeper agent for the communists, where someone showing him the queen of diamonds in a deck of playing cards could compel him to follow their nefarious orders — all without him having any memory of it. All this would be manipulated by a politically ambitious and domineering mother who is secretly working for the communists in a plot to overthrow the US government.

Creating this type of unwitting agent, a Manchurian candidate if you will, would probably be of much greater use than anything you'd learn from waterboarding. It certainly worked on Roh Moohyun.

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