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US was better prepared to interrogate Germans in WWII than todays terror suspects

New York Times:
A group of experts advising the intelligence agencies are arguing that the harsh techniques used since the 2001 terrorist attacks are outmoded, amateurish and unreliable. The psychologists and other specialists, commissioned by the Intelligence Science Board, make the case that more than five years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration has yet to create an elite corps of interrogators trained to glean secrets from terrorism suspects. While billions are spent each year to upgrade satellites and other high-tech spy machinery, the experts say, interrogation methods — possibly the most important source of information on groups like Al Qaeda — are a hodgepodge that date from the 1950s, or are modeled on old Soviet practices. (...)
President Bush has insisted that those secret “enhanced” techniques are crucial, and he is far from alone. The notion that turning up pressure and pain on a prisoner will produce valuable intelligence is a staple of popular culture from the television series “24” to the recent Republican presidential debate, where some candidates tried to outdo one another in vowing to get tough on captured terrorists. A 2005 Harvard study supported the selective use of “highly coercive” techniques.
But some of the experts involved in the interrogation review, called “Educing Information,” say that during World War II, German and Japanese prisoners were effectively questioned without coercion. “It far outclassed what we’ve done,” said Steven M. Kleinman, a former Air Force interrogator and trainer, who has studied the World War II program of interrogating Germans. The questioners at Fort Hunt, Va., “had graduate degrees in law and philosophy, spoke the language flawlessly,” and prepared for four to six hours for each hour of questioning, said Mr. Kleinman, who wrote two chapters for the December report. Mr. Kleinman, who worked as an interrogator in Iraq in 2003, called the post-Sept. 11 efforts “amateurish” by comparison to the World War II program, with inexperienced interrogators who worked through interpreters and had little familiarity with the prisoners’ culture.
The Defense Intelligence Agency offers the full report (pdf). Via: The Daily Dish and Balkinization

It would help if more people would watch the well-made, balanced, multi-faceted, and suspenseful TV series "Sleeper Cell" on DVD (, rather than "24". Anybody a fan?


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Don S on :

Ummm, I'm not sure I'd cite anything about WWII as enlightened or a model of humanitarianism. Everything I've read about the war with the Japanese shows it to have been an extremely dirty war with prisoners regularly killed or abused by each side. Perhaps the official interrogators did nothing edgy in interrogation - but what happened to prisoners before they reached the interrogators? Or were some historians wearing Rose-coloured glasses? I remember reading stories of how US GI's treated Nisei units who holed up in tunnel complexes underground and refused to come out and surrender when cut off and surrounded. A demand for surrender was broadcast, then gas cans were brought up and the complex soaked with gasoline. One last chance to surrender was broadcast - then a grenade tossed in. I'm not as sure about the European portion of WWII. I believe combatants from England and the US were treated well (and conversely), although the Russian front was dirty. Not to mention the disposal of certain groups of non-combatants.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

I read the same. I assume soldiers in the old days kept their mouth shut rather than taking pictures like the Abu Ghraib military police did. I also read that the United States treated German prisoners of war more respectfully than African-American soldiers. Not sure to what extent this is true. Anybody know more? I understand it is now different with all these illegal combatants, who don't play by the rules of war. But still it is interesting that the US got more out of some Nazis than terror suspects.

Don S on :

One thing which probably helped was the fact that US combat soldiers did not speak the Japanese language so there was little chance of ad-hoc interrogations for information. On the other hand consider whether you would prefer? Being summarily executed (sometimes in a gruesome manner) and your corpse abused? Or being shut up at G-Bay and maybe waterboarded? Abu Ghraib circa Saddam or post Saddam? Don't know about you but I'd take the latter choice every time.....

Don S on :

I'm trying to think of a single US prisoner of war during WWII who was of the central importance of someone like Khaled Mohammed - or in possession of urgent intelligence of the nature that he may have possessed. The only name which comes to mind was Rudolf Hess - and the Brits had Hess. The generals weren't in the front lines during WWII. How many general officers were captured by the US army do you suppose. Not many I would think. I agree that 'strong' methods should not be used casually but I think those who wish to outlaw them completely are wrong. A man like Khaled Mohammed may have important, time-critical information in his head and methods such as sleep-wake-sleep or sensory deprivation may be keys to extracting that information. I'm concerned about the innocent victims and not at all about Al Quesda figures. Given that Mohammed was the architect behind 9-11 and apparently the murderer of Daniel Pearl I'm afraid that I don't really give a curse about his 'human rights'. Sorry. Is there an element of revenge in my feelings toward Khaled Mohammed? Surely true.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

I am also more interested in effectiveness of interrogation methods than human rights. The intelligence advisory board is giving bad marks to the current US efforts. "I agree that 'strong' methods should not be used casually" I agree. And this seems to be the problem. Those methods are used to much. Remember a few months ago: [b]Some Westpoint generals have asked Kiefer Sutherland to tell the upcoming officer elite that torture does not work and that "24" is just fiction.[/b] Those generals had trouble convincing their students themselves and were asking Hollywood to give them a lecture. How crazy is that? We are talking here about up and coming elite officers and their generals... I am glad that "24" is not as popular in Germany as it is in the US.

Don S on :

"Those generals had trouble convincing their students themselves and were asking Hollywood to give them a lecture." After slanted propoganda flicks, lectures are what Hollywood does best. And for free, too! Personally I don't rely on Hollywood for my information. Of course I don't rely on CNN either. Particularly the 'newsentertainment' division. Which at times seems to be the whole thing.... Michael Moore isn't favoring us with 'The Truth (tm)' in his cheesy flicks and books, Joerg. He's just servicing a market - same as those poor Iraqi girls.

Don S on :

"The questioners at Fort Hunt, Va., “had graduate degrees in law and philosophy, spoke the language flawlessly,” and prepared for four to six hours for each hour of questioning, " Fort Hunt March 3, 2003: "US Army interrogators at Fort Hunt were interrupted today in their interrogation of Al Queada #3 Khaled Sheik Mohammed by a write of habeas corpus issued by the 1st District Court of Appeals. Mohammed was remanded to the prison in Arlington, VA indefinately while arguments are prepared by both sides on the question of whether Mohammed was read his Miranda Rights by the Pakistani soldiers who captured him". March 15th, Phuket, Thailand: "A bomb went off today on a crowded beach. An Al Qaeda affiliate claimed responsibility in a phone call to Al Jazeera. Meanwhile in other news the lawyers for the prosecution and for Khaled Sheik Mohammed finalising preliminary arguments on a motion to lift the injunction of habeas corpus served upon US Army interrogators 12 days ago. Arguments will be heard tomorrow and a decision is expected by the end of the month.".....

Don S on :

Joerg, in 1942 nobody was going to try to thow legal roadblocks into the path of Army officers trying to interrogate prisoners. In 2003 the line of those trying to do just that extended several blocks. Every glory-hound ambulance-chaser in sight....

Anonymous on :

The postwar photographs that British authorities tried to keep hidden: "For almost 60 years, the evidence of Britain's clandestine torture programme in postwar Germany has lain hidden in the government's files. Harrowing photographs of young men who had survived being systematically starved, as well as beaten, deprived of sleep and exposed to extreme cold, were considered too shocking to be seen." [url],,1745662,00.html[/url]

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