Posted by: mutantpoodle | October 6, 2007

The shame of the Gameboy warriors

Fort Hunt POW Bus

Fort Hunt POW Bus

Today’s Washington Post has a story about the World War II veterans who, while stationed at a Top-Secret Army base at Fort Hunt in Virginia, uncovered some of the Nazi’s greatest secrets – not through waterboarding, or sleep deprivation, or by any of the other techniques our administration semantically denies are torture, but through regular old interrogation.

And these men are none too pleased about what our government is doing now:

When about two dozen veterans got together yesterday for the first time since the 1940s, many of the proud men lamented the chasm between the way they conducted interrogations during the war and the harsh measures used today in questioning terrorism suspects….

Blunt criticism of modern enemy interrogations was a common refrain at the ceremonies held beside the Potomac River near Alexandria. Across the river, President Bush defended his administration’s methods of detaining and questioning terrorism suspects during an Oval Office appearance.

Several of the veterans, all men in their 80s and 90s, denounced the controversial techniques. And when the time came for them to accept honors from the Army’s Freedom Team Salute, one veteran refused, citing his opposition to the war in Iraq and procedures that have been used at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

“I feel like the military is using us to say, ‘We did spooky stuff then, so it’s okay to do it now,’ ” said Arno Mayer, 81, a professor of European history at Princeton University.

When Peter Weiss, 82, went up to receive his award, he commandeered the microphone and gave his piece.

“I am deeply honored to be here, but I want to make it clear that my presence here is not in support of the current war,” said Weiss, chairman of the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy and a human rights and trademark lawyer in New York City.

Their techniques? Let’s say they were long on carrot, short on stick:

Back then, they and their commanders wrestled with the morality of bugging prisoners’ cells with listening devices. They felt bad about censoring letters. They took prisoners out for steak dinners to soften them up. They played games with them.

“We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture,” said Henry Kolm, 90, an MIT physicist who had been assigned to play chess in Germany with Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess….

“We did it with a certain amount of respect and justice,” said John Gunther Dean, 81, who became a career Foreign Service officer and ambassador to Denmark.

The interrogators had standards that remain a source of pride and honor.

“During the many interrogations, I never laid hands on anyone,” said George Frenkel, 87, of Kensington. “We extracted information in a battle of the wits. I’m proud to say I never compromised my humanity.”

In a humanity-compromised time, theirs is a valuable lesson which, of course, the GOP Gameboy warriors will ignore. Torture gets people to tell you what you want to hear; humane interrogations which build up a relationship of trust get people to tell you what they know.

Which sounds more useful to you?

[Archival photo of a prisoner bus used at Fort Hunt from the National Park Service.]

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