Friday, June 01, 2007

Bush, the Nazis and Torture

By Michael Stickings

A provocative title, I know, but Andrew Sullivan had an extremely important post up the other day on the striking similarities between the Nazis’ interrogation techniques (or “methods of examination”) and those approved for use by Bush and his underlings (and approved, too, by many of his supporters). Make sure to read his entire post. Here are my comments:

The Germans call it verschärfte Vernehmung, which means “enhanced” or “intensified” or “sharpened” interrogation. Andrew includes a Gestapo directive that outlines when such interrogation may be use, on whom it may be used, why it may be used, and what methods may be applied. As Andrew explains, “[t]he methods… are indistinguishable from those described as ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ by the president”. But he also notes that Bush has gone even further than the Nazis: “Also: the use of hypothermia, authorized by Bush and Rumsfeld, was initially forbidden. ‘Waterboarding’ was forbidden too, unlike that authorized by Bush.”

Of course, the Nazis went much further than this. The U.S. has, too, but not nearly as far, and so the comparison between Bush and the Nazis must be understood in context. Still, what Andrew shows is that “[t]he Nazi defense of the techniques is almost verbatim that of the Bush administration,” and he provides extensive evidence to show even more similarities, including the approved use of “stress positions,” “repeated beatings,” “[f]reezing prisoners to near-death,” and the “withholding of medicine and leaving wounded or sick prisoners alone in cells for days on end”.

The word “interrogation” is a euphemism. This is torture — and nothing less. It’s what went on in places like Dachau. More recently, it’s what’s been going on in U.S. detention facilities around the world as “authorized by Bush and Rumsfeld,” not to mention Cheney, Gonzales, and other officials, elected and unelected alike, and as supported by many Republicans in Congress and many mainstream conservatives, including prominent pundits, bloggers, and media personalities like Charles Krauthammer, Glenn Reynolds, and Rush Limbaugh. Here’s more from Andrew:

Critics will no doubt say I am accusing the Bush administration of being Hitler. I’m not. There is no comparison between the political system in Germany in 1937 and the U.S. in 2007. What I am reporting is a simple empirical fact: the interrogation methods approved and defended by this president are not new. Many have been used in the past. The very phrase used by the president to describe torture-that-isn’t-somehow-torture — “enhanced interrogation techniques” — is a term originally coined by the Nazis. The techniques are indistinguishable. The methods were clearly understood in 1948 as war-crimes. The punishment for them was death.

No, I’m not suggesting capital punishment (and Andrew isn’t either, of course), which I’m against. But consider the historical context for what Bush is doing as president. That he has abused his authority to wield power like the Nazis, and with such arrogance and brutality, should be viewed as one of the defining elements of his presidency. If America is an empire in decline, and if there is, as I think there is, a sickness eating away at its soul, there can be little doubt that a symptom of that sickness and decline, one that is spreading the sickness and accelerating the decline, that is blocking any attempt at recovery and making everything so much worse, can be found at the very apex of government, in the White House and in the various corridors of power occupied by those who have turned Lincoln’s last, best hope into a savage instrument of oppression.