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WWII Interogators
October 10, 2007 4:26 PM   Subscribe

Fort Hunt's Quiet Men Break Silence on WWII. After 60 years of silence, the World War II veterans who interrogated Nazi prisoners of war at Fort Hunt are telling their story. [Via The Reality-Based Community.]
"We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture," said Henry Kolm, 90, an MIT physicist who had been assigned to play chess in Germany with Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess.

"During the many interrogations, I never laid hands on anyone," said George Frenkel, 87, of Kensington. "We extracted information in a battle of the wits. I'm proud to say I never compromised my humanity."
posted by homunculus (35 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture

Admittedly, that was pre-9/11.
posted by billysumday at 4:46 PM on October 10, 2007 [4 favorites]


"And when the time came for them to accept honors from the Army's Freedom Team Salute, one veteran refused, citing his opposition to the war in Iraq and procedures that have been used at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba."

Good for him! That kind of integrity is inspiring. And I wish that very old people like these had more oportunities to speak their minds, and be listened to. The country needs to hear a lot more, I believe, from the elderly. Generally speaking, in matters of public discourse, they simply don't exist.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:51 PM on October 10, 2007 [6 favorites]


I'm hoping billysumday's comment was intended as an ironic joke.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:52 PM on October 10, 2007 [4 favorites]


As a law enforcement buff, I've done a lot of reading about police interrogation techniques and it's a general rule of thumb that violence and threats of violence are the least effective ways of getting information. As Nice Guy Eddie says in Reservoir Dogs "If you bet this guy enough, he'll tell you started the Chicago fire, but that don't make it so!"
posted by jonmc at 4:57 PM on October 10, 2007


Somehow the tools we used against a murderous bunch of ideologically committed, highly trained soldiers who single handedly overthrew the democratic government of a pillar of Western culture and incubated the modern space program aren't good enough against a bunch of nihilistic jackasses who can barely shoot straight.

WTF.
posted by wuwei at 4:57 PM on October 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


I think I'll get off their lawn now.
posted by The World Famous at 5:04 PM on October 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


That's nice, they were cordial with the white people. Funny they don't mention what they did to the Japanese prisoners...
posted by mullingitover at 5:15 PM on October 10, 2007 [5 favorites]


The elderly are not seen and heard on tv and radio because they don't talk fast enough. They have valuable info in their heads but the modern world is too impatient to wait for it to be expressed. Now more than ever, it's quantity over quality.
posted by king walnut at 5:15 PM on October 10, 2007


Well, to be fair, mullingitover, the Pacific Theatre was ripe with barbarism on both sides of the POW divide. The racism and bigotry were used essentially as weapons for the rank and file on both sides - what kind of result would one expect?

Also, last I checked the Russians were white, yet "sitting down to play chess" was not the Red Army's MO when it came to Germans.
posted by absalom at 5:18 PM on October 10, 2007


mullingitover writes "Funny they don't mention what they did to the Japanese prisoners..."

When Otis Cary interrogated Japanese prisoners during World War II, he softened them with gifts of magazines, cigarettes, and chocolates....
posted by mr_roboto at 5:26 PM on October 10, 2007 [5 favorites]


mullingitover: What did the US do to Japanese prisoners?
posted by sien at 5:26 PM on October 10, 2007


absalom writes "Well, to be fair, mullingitover, the Pacific Theatre was ripe with barbarism on both sides of the POW divide."

I know, that's why I was confused why we didn't retaliate for 9/11 by hijacking commercial jets and flying them into Saudi royal palaces.
posted by mullingitover at 5:28 PM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm really glad this made it to the blue, even if just for the "ping-pong" quote.

It's really difficult to further comment, because, on preview, this now seems a rather isolated event or series of events.

However, I think the lesson is to respect and know your enemy, two things that are not happening today with our current enemies.

Not that enemy-combatants, insurgents or terrorists deserve respect, but that might be a game well played.
posted by snsranch at 5:32 PM on October 10, 2007


‘We Do Not Torture’
posted by homunculus at 5:33 PM on October 10, 2007


sien writes "mullingitover: What did the US do to Japanese prisoners?"

Well, most of the time they just weren't taken. US soldiers really desired to kill the Japanese, a sentiment they didn't feel toward the Germans to the same degree. So when the Japanese tried to surrender, they were often simply murdered.

Granted, the Japanese weren't exactly ethical warriors themselves, but since when is war supposed to be a race to the bottom?
posted by mullingitover at 5:34 PM on October 10, 2007


Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Torture Appeal
posted by homunculus at 5:35 PM on October 10, 2007


"when the Japanese tried to surrender"

this happened so rarely that when it did, it was assumed to be a ruse and treated as such.

either that ...or American evil white males mindlessly, and with no reason at all, killed those poor oppressed Japanese that had spent the last 10 years raping their way across Asia and the Pacific.
posted by Megafly at 5:44 PM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Thanks for that link, mr_roboto.
posted by homunculus at 5:47 PM on October 10, 2007


Megafly: Oh, NOT for no reason at all. I recommend you read War Without Mercy if you want to get a good perspective into the role of racism and why the Japanese and Americans were so vicious to each other. I mean, assuming your goal is to achieve a good perspective on the issue. Hard to tell around here some days.
posted by absalom at 6:10 PM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


I am not about to defend what is currently taking place with torture by our side but it should be noted that here we are talking about military POW, and there are accepted conventions. Most POWs have not the info that would be as significant as knowing about a terror attack by suicide bombers etc brought about by men not in uniform or belonging to any army.

As for atrocities by "our side," yes. There were many and I know of some firsthand in one of our wars.
posted by Postroad at 6:13 PM on October 10, 2007


Postroad writes "Most POWs have not the info that would be as significant as knowing about a terror attack by suicide bombers etc brought about by men not in uniform or belonging to any army."

The degree of importance of information doesn't really make any difference as to how effective torture is relative to other methods. The psychology doesn't change if your secret is even more secret. The Nazis took their secrets pretty seriously, too. The rhetorical ticking time bomb scenarios the government trots out are contrived and not at all relevant. We've tortured people for far less. Quite a lot of the prisoners we've taken in and tortured had nothing to do with the violence. The lack of a uniform also has nothing to do with whether torture works. But it doesn't matter. Torture really isn't about getting information. It's about power.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:34 PM on October 10, 2007


Thanks for that post, very interesting. I go there quite often, actually, as it's a beautiful drive along the river from D.C. and a nice place to stroll around. Still, it's also a pretty stark reminder of how quickly things can be forgotten, and it's weird to think that the pretty field where people play soccer once housed interrogation cells.

There are still parts of the old military buildings there - see these short clips that I filmed there in April of last year (self link) - but I don't think any of them are buildings left over from the interrogation complex.
posted by gemmy at 6:37 PM on October 10, 2007


Doh. Bad link. Clips.
posted by gemmy at 6:38 PM on October 10, 2007


Postroad writes "I am not about to defend what is currently taking place with torture by our side but it should be noted that here we are talking about military POW, and there are accepted conventions."

By the way, the Geneva Conventions have no exceptions when torture is legally allowable. It is always a violation, uniform or not, state actor or not.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:39 PM on October 10, 2007


I never compromised my humanity

This is the message that needs to be repeated and repeated, by those who are still able.

Postroad writes: I am not about to defend what is currently taking place with torture by our side but it should be noted that here we are talking about military POW, and there are accepted conventions.

Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Reservations: ...

II. The Senate's advice and consent is subject to the following understandings, which shall apply to the obligations of the United States under this Convention:

(1) (a) That with reference to article 1, the United States understands that, in order to constitute torture, an act must be specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering and that mental pain or suffering refers to prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from (1) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering; (2) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality; (3) the threat of imminent death; or (4) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality.

(b) That the United States understands that the definition of torture in article 1 is intended to apply only to acts directed against persons in the offender's custody or physical control.

unless they aren't part of a regular army? Or maybe you have a different definition of "accepted" than "signed and then ratified". Obviously, this is a more modern treaty, but to suggest that "accepted conventions" have at present no say about the treatment of persons not in uniform... gah. As for the rest of your comment:

PART I
Article 2

2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political in stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
posted by dreamsign at 7:16 PM on October 10, 2007


Thanks for FPPing this homunculus. I wasn't sure if this and the superb Horton piece on torture in Harper's was newsfilter or too bloggish.

I'm so glad these WWII vets spoke up. I wish more, like the ones on the Ken Burns WWII doc would as well.

At this point, they seem to be the only ones who might be able to effectively speak truth to power. It would be ironic, but perfect if they saved the country again, this time from an internal rot. God, what a rot...
posted by Skygazer at 8:57 PM on October 10, 2007


I wasn't sure if this and the superb Horton piece on torture in Harper's was newsfilter or too bloggish.

It's history. Their voices need to be heard, and remembered.

At this point, they seem to be the only ones who might be able to effectively speak truth to power.

Yeah, but hardly anyone is listening. Not the government, not the media, and not the public. That's the saddest part.
posted by homunculus at 10:25 PM on October 10, 2007


I can't condone torture - but if the current administration were forced into a battle of wits...
Isn't that called "Taking a knife to a gunfight."?
posted by speug at 10:35 PM on October 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


I hope Ken Burns does a documentary on the interrogators of Fort Hunt. It would be a great addition to the history of the War he's recording, with so much relevance to what is going on today.
posted by homunculus at 11:44 PM on October 10, 2007


Bush's "Enhanced Techniques" A Lot Like Klaus Barbie's
posted by homunculus at 12:09 AM on October 11, 2007


These are the kind of men that need to be worshiped in the military, instead of all the "BOOOYAAAH" rhetoric that goes on over there.
posted by hadjiboy at 4:54 AM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Maybe Bush needs to visit that Klaus Barbie museum which is located somewhere outside Las Vegas, at least if the movie Rat Race is accurate at all.
posted by cell divide at 6:05 AM on October 11, 2007


I've heard interviews with a top NY police interrogator, with Israel's top interrogator, and now these guys. They all say the same thing. The best interrogation techniques involve personal interaction with the person.

Israel's guy (I wish I had links for all of this) said that torture gives you the least reliable information of any technique that can be used. Sometimes people talk to stop you from torturing them--but it is almost always made up.

One American interrogation expert who was on NPR just last night was saying that a lot of young American interrogators get their ideas from shows like 24, where the information to save thousands of lives is at stake if information is not quickly procured, a short period of torture takes place, then the guy spills all the beans. He said that these three things are complete nonsense and he's never seen anything like it in the decades of his career. He's gotten the best information--often critical terrorist group details, from simply befriending the guy.

Oh and that Israeli guy had nothing for contempt for American interrogation techniques.
posted by eye of newt at 8:33 AM on October 11, 2007 [3 favorites]


Yeah, but hardly anyone is listening. Not the government, not the media, and not the public. That's the saddest part.
posted by homunculus at 1:25 AM on October 11 [+] [!]


Maybe not now, but maybe with time. In the meanwhile I think it's important to keep repeating what they said.
posted by Skygazer at 8:45 AM on October 11, 2007


The ‘Good Germans’ Among Us
posted by homunculus at 10:38 AM on October 14, 2007


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