The New York Times has just posted a story detailing how trainers who gave a class on interrogation in 2002 at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba based the class almost entirely on a chart that showed the effects of “coercive management techniques” for possible use on prisoners, including “sleep deprivation,” “prolonged constraint,” and “exposure” (Shane, Scott, “China Inspired Interrogations at Guantánamo”, New York Times, July 2, 2008).

Apparently the trainers may not have realized that the chart came from a 1957 document written at the bequest of the Air Force detailing the various torture techniques that the North Koreans and the Chinese used during the Korean war to illicit confessions from Air Force prisoners of war (POWs) that they conducted germ warfare and other atrocities against the Koreans during the conflict. However, most of these confessions were false and baseless. The 1957 study, conducted by sociologist Alfred Biderman, was commissioned to help develop training of American servicemen in order to give them a taste of what might they would be subjected to if they became POWs. This, in theory, would help prevent a quick capitulation by the POW to the enemy interrogation.

This training regimen became the source of CIA and military interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay. As I read the document I became painfully aware that these techniques were always described with the term “torture.”

I applaud the military and the intelligence community for their efforts in the past in gathering intelligence and preventing possible terrorist activities here at home. It is something that we have to do and it’s not a pretty job. I understand that. What I find difficult to understand is how we, as a nation which abhors torture, can accept these methods as legitimate “interrogation” techniques when we previously classified them as torture. There are those who would argue that in this time of war we need to use any means at our disposal to gather intelligence. We are faced with an enemy who has no hesitation about causing mass murder against a civilian population. That is the nature of our enemy. What we cannot do is devalue our nature and abandon our principles in order to fight them. We must be better than that…otherwise we roll the clock back several centuries and we might as well dust off the rack and the iron maiden.