Hit & Run

Outrageous Comparisons

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Remember the furor this summer when Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) read off a description of how prisoners at Gitmo were treated, then suggested that if you'd heard it out of context, you'd surely think it was a description of a Soviet gulag? Durbin was finally pressured to apologize for the unconscionable comparison.

Except, according to a piece in The New York Times today, we've been cribbing our interrogation tactics from Vietnam and North Korea. Initially, those tactics had been studied as part of a classfied program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE), designed to help U.S. soldiers resist breaking under interrogation. But in 2002, the Pentagon decided to mine the program for ideas. What sort of ideas? The article explains:

SERE methods are classified, but the program's principles are known. It sought to recreate the brutal conditions American prisoners of war experienced in Korea and Vietnam, where Communist interrogators forced false confessions from some detainees, and broke the spirits of many more, through Pavlovian and other conditioning. Prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation, painful body positions and punitive control over life's most intimate functions produced overwhelming stress in these prisoners. Stress led in turn to despair, uncontrollable anxiety and a collapse of self-esteem. Sometimes hallucinations and delusions ensued. Prisoners who had been through this treatment became pliable and craved companionship, easing the way for captors to obtain the "confessions" they sought.

Meanwhile, the debate in the Senate continues over whether to strip Gitmo detainees of the habeas corpus rights. We know, because the military's own internal documents confirm it, that some of those detainess have no connection to terrorism.

So: How many of the folks who howled with outrage that someone might compare our tactics with those of despotic communist regimes will exhibit it in the same measure toward those who made the comparison apt by deciding to model our interrogation tactics on those of despotic communist regimes?