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The Gray Lady Rails Against "Coercive Methods" By: Andrew Walden
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, July 22, 2008


The New York Times in a July 2 article claims that “coercive methods” being used on illegal enemy combatants being held at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base are based on “Communist interrogation methods.” 

As usual, the NYT is wrong.  The Times’ case is based on GTMO interrogators’ use of the 1957 “Biderman’s Chart of Coercion” to develop interrogation strategies.  The chart was presented at a June 17 meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Albert Biderman, an Air Force sociologist in 1957 developed the chart based on debriefings of US Korean War POWs returning from captivity at the hands of North Korean and Chinese forces. 

The Times article was titled, “China Inspired Interrogations at Guantánamo,” but Biderman’s 51 year old study points out that these techniques were not a communist invention, writing:

“The methods of gaining compliance they used included nothing which was not common practice to police and intelligence interrogators of other times and nations, where restraints precluding such tactics were not in force.”

US military personnel captured in the Korean War were obeying all of the provisions of the Geneva Convention and as POWs were therefore entitled to be protected from such interrogation techniques.

Al-Qaeda and Taliban combatants are “illegal enemy combatants,” not POWs. They operate in violation of the provisions of the 1949 Geneva Convention article 4, section A, part 2, by not “being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates,” not “having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance,” not “carrying arms openly,” and not “conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.” 

As an incentive for war fighters to obey the laws of warfare, the Geneva Convention holds that such illegal combatants have absolutely no rights whatsoever.  The Geneva Convention allows this in hope of forcing compliance with the laws of warfare it sets forth.  Efforts to provide illegal combatants with rights undermine the effectiveness of the Geneva Conventions. 

Biderman’s coercion chart details techniques with applications far beyond warfare.  It is also used to document techniques used by domestic partners in an abusive, controlling relationship.  As part of training to recover from domestic abuse, victims are made to study the chart in hopes that they will not fall into the same type of relationship in the future. 

There are an estimated 1 to 3 million acts of domestic abuse per year in the US.  Estimates range as high a 31% of American women are abused by a partner at least once in their lifetime.  When the victim is a female US citizen, these conditions are usually dealt with by local police and underfunded domestic abuse shelter services.  But Biderman’s techniques of isolation and control become exhibit number one in a capital case against America when applied to fanatical illegal combatants held at GTMO.

Biderman’s chart is used to explain how cults gain control of their members.  Writes Biderman: “The reception of these findings has frequently been incredulous and we have been asked: ‘Is there nothing more to it than this? Can people really be manipulated so easily? Are you sure there was not something done that you failed to detect.’”  It is also used by cult deprogrammers to break the grip of the cult over its members—a process which is probably the best analogy for what is happening to the brainwashed suicide cultists at GTMO.

Of course The Times mentions none of this.  Instead, they quote Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) saying, “These were techniques to get false confessions….” 

Wrong.  Biderman makes a clear distinction between the process of gaining compliance and the process of directing a complaint prisoner to falsely “confess.”

Compliance is one thing, what an interrogator does with a compliant prisoner is another.  Biderman spends much of his study exploring the difference between the two.  He presents a completely separate chart detailing resistance to demands for a false confession.

American POWs were illegally forced to make propaganda “confessions” by their communist captors because that is what the communists wanted.  Biderman writes: “We found that we could make a meaningful distinction between those measures the Communists took to render the prisoner compliant, on the one hand, and, on the other, those which sought to shape his compliance into the very specific patterns of ‘confessor’ behavior with which the world has become familiar.” 

To tie these techniques to false confessions or brainwashing is to claim that US military personnel and CIA personnel are actually seeking false confessions, rather than genuine intelligence useful to uncover hidden terror cells and plans for future terrorist attacks.  No GTMO detainee has ever made a propaganda video—except for the pro-jihadi propaganda videos claiming all types of violent torture made by released detainees and their attorneys.

Biderman’s study warns against the effectiveness of violence:

“I have not included physical torture as a general category in this outline, despite the fact that many of our prisoners of war did encounter physical torture and despite the fact that a few of the specific measures in the outline may involve physical pain. I have omitted torture from the outline to emphasize that inflicting physical pain is not a necessary nor particularly effective method of inducing compliance.”

Instead, Biderman points to the effectiveness of psycho-physiological methods:

“Where the individual is told to stand at attention for long periods, an intervening factor is introduced. The immediate source of pain is not the interrogator but the victim himself. The contest becomes, in a way, one of the individual against himself. The motivational strength of the individual is likely to exhaust itself in this internal encounter….”

Biderman’s 1957 coercion chart eventually became the basis of an armed forces training program, known as SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) aimed at preparing military personnel for conditions they might face if captured by enemy forces.  SERE training materials were then reverse-engineered in order to develop interrogation strategies used against illegal Islamist combatants.

The Times, tipped off to its sly storyline by “an independent expert on interrogation who spoke on condition of anonymity” quotes unnamed “critics” who describe the use of the Biderman chart as “a remarkable case of historical amnesia.” 

But it is the Times whose entire case is based on the hope that everybody would forget to actually read Biderman’s study.  

Not today. 



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