The Gestapo Precedent for "EITs"

by Andrew

Marc Ambinder addresses the subject of torture today. Ambers poses the following analogy:

An American CIA interrogator whose techniques yield valuable information is much less reprehensible than a Gestapo torturer whose techniques resulted in the death of Jews or gypsies. Doesn't mean the CIA guy was right, but it's still hard to disagree with that sentence. 

But that is the wrong analogy. The sadism and murder of Jews and gypsies in Nazi Germany do not fall under a torture category. The Nazis were not trying to get information out of them as prisoners of war; they were trying to annihilate them as a race and murder as many of them as possible.

For torture to be torture, it must be a government-authorized official's application of "severe mental or physical pain or suffering" in order to acquire information from an individual suspected of having it. So the correct analogy would be the torture via EITs of terrorist insurgents to get information to avoid guerrilla attacks in a war zone. And we have a very good precedent for that in military history. Here's a document from Norway's 1948 war-crimes trial detailing the prosecution of Nazis convicted of "enhanced interrogation techniques" (the phrase in its original German is "verschaerfte Vernehmung)" in the Second World War. Here's a document detailing Nazi bureaucratic description of these techniques. You will note the striking similarities between its content, its legalisms, its bureaucratic tone, and the recent CIA documents pried out of the US government's hands by the ACLU:


Notice how the Gestapo, like Cheney, had doctors present, and all torture was very carefully monitored. Blows with a stick, like collaring someone and bashing his body against a plywood wall - were carefully monitored to a maximum number of times. The "windowless cells", and sleep deprivation are identical to Cheney's methods. In the 1948 trial, cold baths were also used to bring prisoners' temperatures down to near-death levels, like those used by Navy SEALS in Afghanistan, by McChrystal's special ops in Iraq, and by Cheney's supervised torture in Gitmo. The victims wore no uniforms (which was used as a defense by the Nazis in the trial as they have been used by some on the right to defend American torture), and, unlike those subjected to Cheney's torture techniques, none of those tortured by the Gestapo died in the process. In fact, the Gestapo's defense at trial was John Yoo's:

Most of the injuries inflicted were slight and did not result in permanent disablement.

The Gestapo did not use waterboarding - so their methods of interrogation in this case were not as extreme as Cheney's. Nonetheless, the US-run court ruled that Cheney-style EITs, deployed by the Gestapo with the same justification as Cheney, constituted prosecutable torture:

As extenuating circumstances, [accused torturer] Bruns had pleaded various incidents in which he had helped Norwegians, Schubert had pleaded difficulties at home, and Clemens had pointed to several hundred interrogations during which he had treated prisoners humanely.

The Court did not regard any of the above-mentioned circumstances as a sufficient reason for mitigating the punishment and found it necessary to act with the utmost severity. Each of the defendants was responsible for a series of incidents of torture, every one of which could, according to Art. 3 (a), (c) and (d) of the Provisional Decree of 4th May, 1945, be punished by the death sentence.

And they were executed for war crimes.

The question Americans have to ask themselves is why they hold the former president and vice-president to lower moral and ethical standards than the United States once held the Gestapo. That's all. And that's everything, isn't it?