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