Churchill vs Cheney

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[Re-posted] The West has been attacked many times before by barbarians. As someone who grew up in Southern England between London and the Channel, this was perhaps more obvious to me than to some Americans. In the countryside around my home, there were still occasional concrete constructions designed to impede Nazi tanks left rotting in the woods. My high-school playground retained its air-raid shelters (we stored our dirty books there). My great aunt was blind in one eye from a bomb blast in the blitz; my grandfather lived with a brain injury when he was a prison guard in the war and was attacked by a prison inmate during an air-raid; my mother was knocked over by the impact of a rocket at the end of the war; my parents and aunts and uncles were evacuated. Most ordinary people lived through the Blitz, a random 9/11 a week, from an army poised to invade, and turn England's democratic heritage into a footnote in a Nazi empire.

As all that was happening, and as intelligence was vital, the British captured over 500 enemy spies operating in Britain and elsewhere. Most went through Camp 020, a Victorian pile crammed with interrogators. As Britain's very survival hung in the balance, as women and children were being killed on a daily basis and London turned into rubble, Churchill nonetheless knew that embracing torture was the equivalent of surrender to the barbarism he was fighting. The chief interrogator at Camp 020 was someone out of the movies:

Colonel Robin “Tin Eye” Stephens was the commander of the wartime spy prison and interrogation centre codenamed Camp 020, an ugly Victorian mansion surrounded by barbed wire on the edge of Ham Common. In the course of the war, some 500 enemy spies from 44 countries passed through Camp 020; most were interrogated, at some point, by Stephens; all but a tiny handful crumbled.

Stephens was a bristling, xenophobic martinet; in appearance, with his glinting monocle and cigarette holder, he looked exactly like the caricature Gestapo interrogator who has “vays of making you talk”.

Stephens had ways of making anyone talk. In a top secret report, recently declassified by MI5 and now in the Public Records Office, he listed the tactics needed to break down a suspect: “A breaker is born and not made . . . pressure is attained by personality, tone, and rapidity of questions, a driving attack in the nature of a blast which will scare a man out of his wits.”

The terrifying commandant of Camp 020 refined psychological intimidation to an art form.

Suspects often left the interrogation cells legless with fear after an all-night grilling. An inspired amateur psychologist, Stephens used every trick, lie and bullying tactic to get what he needed; he deployed threats, drugs, drink and deceit. But he never once resorted to violence. “Figuratively,” he said, “a spy in war should be at the point of a bayonet.” But only ever figuratively. As one colleague wrote: “The Commandant obtained results without recourse to assault and battery. It was the very basis of Camp 020 procedure that nobody raised a hand against a prisoner.”

Stephens did not eschew torture out of mercy. This was no squishy liberal: the eye was made of tin, and the rest of him out of tungsten. (Indeed, he was disappointed that only 16 spies were executed during the war.) His motives were strictly practical. “Never strike a man. It is unintelligent, for the spy will give an answer to please, an answer to escape punishment. And having given a false answer, all else depends upon the false premise.”...

Torture is the weapon of cowards and bullies and monsters. Cheney is all three. Prosecute him.

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