Posted by: Shaun | July 2, 2008

The Manchurian Terrorist

A little more than a month ago, it was revealed that the U.S. military cooperated with the Chinese government to interrogate Guantánamo Bay detainees from China’s Xinjiang province.  Today, another China-Guantánmo link was exposed, but this one is a bit more unusual.  It turns out that the interrogation techniques used on a few of the prisoners held on the island were actually pilfered from Chinese practioners…during the Korean War.  They were originally brought to America’s attention in 1957 by Dr. Alfred Biderman in an article [PDF] for the U.S. Air Force entitled “Communist Attempts to Elicit False Confessions From Air Force Prisoners of War” before being incorporated into the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training to protect American prisoner’s of war from harsh interrogation.

Ah, yes, and therein lies the rub; the techniques were used by the People’s Liberation Army not to extract useful battlefield intelligence from American prisoners, but to elicit false confessions to war crimes and the use of weaponized pathogens.  When this was exposed in the 1950s, it generated substantial concern about communist “brainwashing” and inspired one of the great films of the Cold War era.  Apparently when it culled these tactics from the SERE training, the military neglected this somewhat important aspect of their origins.

What sorts methods were commended to America’s interrogators?  They were listed in a chart originally prepared by Dr. Biderman that included such gems as these:

[The] 1957 article described “one form of torture” used by the Chinese as forcing American prisoners to stand “for exceedingly long periods,” sometimes in conditions of “extreme cold.” Such passive methods, he wrote, were more common than outright physical violence. Prolonged standing and exposure to cold have both been used by American military and C.I.A. interrogators against terrorist suspects.

The chart also listed other techniques used by the Chinese, including “Semi-Starvation,” “Exploitation of Wounds,” and “Filthy, Infested Surroundings,” and with their effects: “Makes Victim Dependent on Interrogator,” “Weakens Mental and Physical Ability to Resist,” and “Reduces Prisoner to ‘Animal Level’ Concerns.”

The only change made in the chart presented at Guantánamo was to drop its original title: “Communist Coercive Methods for Eliciting Individual Compliance.”

This, tragically, is what we have come to.  The United States has adopted the practices of Maoist China; practices that, when directed against American prisoners of war in Korea, were decried as “torture” and “brainwashing.”  This abominable conduct is compounded by the fact the moral breaches in question were likely of little or no use to American security, though a revelation to the contrary would still not be exculpatory.  With the date of my country’s birth fast approaching, I can’t help but wonder what its founders would have thought about the creation of an extralegal enclave for the permanent detention and interrogation of prisoners, many of whom have been charged with no crime.  I suspect they would be somewhat troubled.



  1. Why did you stop writing? People read this stuff, you know. 🙂

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