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Monday, October 02, 2006

Learning from the masters

Joseph Margulies writes in the WaPo about "touchless torture," which our spooks learned from the North Koreans, and apparently use to this day (with more authority since Congress passed the torture bill last week):
In these uncertain times, it's worth recalling that the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction in the hands of madmen is not new. Nearly 50 years before Sept. 11, 2001, the American public learned that a group of prisoners in military custody confessed to being part of an elaborate conspiracy to bomb civilian targets with bacteriological weapons.

The first prisoner to crack said the goal was "the mass annihilation of the civilian population." As often happens, his confession led to others, and before long, three dozen prisoners had coughed up page after page of chilling, meticulously detailed admissions.

But it was all a lie. Thirty-six American airmen, shot from the sky during the Korean War, falsely confessed to a vast plot to bomb civilian targets. How did this happen? With Congress having approved a "compromise" that gives the president authority to determine the meaning of the Geneva Conventions and redefines the War Crimes Act to protect CIA interrogators, we should revisit this all-but-forgotten moment in U.S. history.

During the Korean War, thousands of American POWs were forced to endure grotesque and sadistic physical torture. But the downed airmen were treated differently. The senior officer among them was Col. Frank Schwable, the highest-ranking Marine captured in the conflict. "I want to emphasize," Schwable said later, "that I did not undergo physical torture. Perhaps I would have been more fortunate if I had, because people nowadays seem to understand that better. Mine was the more subtle kind of torment."
After the war North Korean atrocities were roundly condemned by the United States, which complained to the United Nations that the Koreans had not complied with the Geneva Conventions. One institution, however, was not repelled but intrigued. The experience led the CIA to accelerate its research into the theory and science of coercive interrogation.
More, from Margulies and Chris Floyd.