The Case Of Richard Wilhelm Hermann Bruns, Et Al.

Longtime Dish readers will know what I'm referring to. It is a famous war crime prosecution against Nazi officers in occupied Norway, and the trial took place in 1946. The men were accused of using "enhanced interrogation" techniques - or in the original German "verschaerfte Vernehmung" - against captives. The Dish's first coverage of this case can be read here. The online account of the trial can be found here. Two things are worth noting. The first is the Nazi definition of the term "enhanced interrogation." Here's the formal description:

Notice how the Nazis ensured that doctors were present at all times so that they could monitor the captives' response to torture and make sure they didn't die or suffer visible permanent injuries that could embarrass the regime in public (see the Bradbury and Bybee memos for the Bush equivalent). Notice the careful measurement of how many times someone can be beaten (another Cheney innovation). And notice that we are not talking about waterboarding - something even the Nazis excluded from their "enhanced interrogation" methods. In the case of Bruns, et al., this translated to these charges:

On 19th December, 1942, Bruns was present at the interrogation of a sick Norwegian. Leg screws were fastened to his legs and he was beaten with various implements. Later he was thrown unconscious into a cellar, where he remained for four days before receiving medical attention.

Between 1942 and 1945, Bruns used the method of "verschärfte Vernehmung" on 11 Norwegian citizens. This method involved the use of various implements of torture, cold baths and blows and kicks in the face and all over the body. Most of the prisoners suffered for a considerable time from the injuries received during those interrogations.

Between 1942 and 1945, Schubert gave 14 Norwegian prisoners "verschärfte Vernehmung," using various instruments of torture and hitting them in the face and over the body. Many of the prisoners suffered for a considerable time from the effects of injuries they received.

So you have the abuse of someone with a pre-existing injury (Zubaydah), neglect of prisoners (ubiquitous at Bagram, Abu Ghraib and testified to by FBI agents at Gitmo), measured beatings, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, and hypothermia or cold baths (also documented in the Bybee and Bradbury memos and the ICRC report). Now check out the defense against the charge of war crimes:

All three defendants appealed to the Supreme Court. Their appeal was based on the following arguments :

(a) That the acts of torture which the defendants had committed were permitted under International Law as reprisals against the illegal Military Organisation whose activities were at variance with International Law.

(b) That the acts were carried out on superior orders and that the defendants acted under duress.

(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.

Do these defenses sound familiar? They failed in court. And while modern Americans debate whether we can even use the word 'torture' with respect to these techniques, previous generations, closer to the reality of war and torture than we are, had no qualms.

The punishment for these crimes was the death penalty.