"Taxi to the Dark Side" on HBO Tonight; What Have We Learned Since its Release?
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The Bush administration will go down in history as the Torture Team. In recently revealed written testimony for the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice confirmed that the National Security Council discussed employing special interrogation techniques for the CIA. These techniques were based on methods used in the SERE school (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) -- which include waterboarding, a form of slow-motion drowning -- which trains Americans on how to resist torture in the event that they are captured by unscrupulous authoritarian regimes. Ultimately, the U.S. Armed Forces and the CIA did employ these techniques, many of which are clearly torture by our own definition, going back to the Nuremburg trials, and by any objective reading of the Geneva Conventions. Of course, the Bush administration spent its time trying to rewrite its own legal definition of torture so that it could use the techniques without having to use the "t word" (Donald Rumsfeld's phrase) which doesn't poll well.
What is staggering is that, despite all the time spent by the Bush administration trying to find legal loopholes to avoid being prosecuted as war criminals, no one in the administration seems to have looked at the origins of these techniques. The SERE school was formed, in part, in response to American soldiers who had been brainwashed by Communist Chinese during the Korean War. These techniques were also used by the Soviets who liked them because they were psychologically brutal but didn't leave any lasting physical marks. But the purpose of these techniques was never to get good "actionable" intelligence -- ie, the truth. The purpose was to obtain false confessions -- either from dissidents or captured soldiers -- that could be used for propaganda purposes. Does that cast the Bush administration's war on terror in a slightly different light?