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Hullabaloo


Thursday, June 05, 2014

 
POW turncoats

by digby

As the wingnuts gin up a new rumor that Bergdahl joined the Taliban and was allegedly seen playing soccer and otherwise fraternizing during his five years of captivity, I was reminded of this New York Times story from a few years back about how Americans reacted to POWs from the Korean war:

After the war, thousands of American P.O.W.’s returned under suspicion of having collaborated with the enemy while in captivity. A handful, on orders from their captors, had, in fact, falsely accused the United States of conducting germ warfare against North Korea. Congress was transfixed by “the fear that the soldiers could have been brainwashed by the Chinese and still be spying for them,” Col. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie wrote in the journal Military Medicine. Dread that the Chinese Communists had created zombie sleeper agents spread quickly and ran deep.

A Dutch psychologist, Joost A. M. Meerloo, caught the apocalyptic tone in a New York Times Magazine article in 1954: “The totalitarians have misused the knowledge of how the mind works for their own purposes. They have applied the Pavlovian technique — in a far more complex and subtle way, of course — to produce the reflex of mental and political submission of the humans in their power.”
[...]
Clandestine prisons were created in occupied Germany, occupied Japan and the Panama Canal Zone. “Like Guantánamo,” said a charter member of the C.I.A., Thomas Polgar. “It was anything goes.” In these cells, the agency conducted experiments in drug-induced brainwashing and other “special techniques” for interrogations. These continued inside and outside the United States, sometimes on unsuspecting human guinea pigs, long after the Korean War ended in 1953.

“There was deep concern over the issue of brainwashing,” Richard Helms, the former director of central intelligence, told the journalist David Frost 25 years later. “We felt that it was our responsibility not to lag behind the Russians or the Chinese in this field, and the only way to find out what the risks were was to test things such as L.S.D. and other drugs that could be used to control human behavior. These experiments went on for many years.”

While the government chased after truth serum, fiction raced behind reality. The theory of a robot-like Manchurian Candidate was posited by the C.I.A. in 1953, six years before Richard Condon published the novel of that name, nine years before the book became a movie. William Burroughs, in “Naked Lunch” (1959), created a drug-addled mad scientist, Dr. Benway, “an expert on all phases of interrogation, brainwashing and control.”

In the 1960s, brainwashing began to fade as a nightmare, though it was revived when captured soldiers and pilots released by North Vietnam made antiwar statements. In 1967, a Republican presidential contender, Gov. George Romney of Michigan (Mitt’s dad), was ridiculed when he said he had been brainwashed by American generals about how well the war in Vietnam was going.

Flash forward to 2002. American military and intelligence officers, looking for better ways to interrogate prisoners in the war on terror, went combing through government files. They found that the best institutional memory lay in the interrogation experiences of American P.O.W.’s in Korea. They reprinted a 1957 chart describing death threats, degradation, sleep deprivation — and worse — inflicted by Chinese captors. And they made it part of a new handbook for interrogators at Guantánamo.

We know a lot about POWs under duress from our own prisoners being held captive in he past and our own experiments on the subject. In some respects we wrote the book.

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