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Bush and the 'specter of Mengele'

My Post colleague Eva Rodriguez defends former president Bush from the charge that his administration engaged in Nazi-like medical experimentation on CIA detainees, and she scores our colleague Katrina vanden Huvel for “raising the specter of Mengele.” Rodriguez opposes enhanced interrogation, but writes that there is no comparison between the Bush administration’s actions and those of the Nazis. We must distinguish between “the misguided acts of a president intent on protecting his country from another devastating attack and the impulses of a psychopath who whiles away the hours by making lamp shades out of human skin.”

Rodriguez is right in making a distinction between Bush and the Nazis, and courageous to say so. But she would be surprised how many freely make the comparison between Bush and the Nazis. In 2008, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) declared in a speech on the Senate floor, “Waterboarding [is] a technique… banned for excessive cruelty by the Gestapo!” (Consider that for a moment: Dodd actually believes that the techniques applied by his own country were considered excessively cruel by the Gestapo). In 2005, Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the second ranking Democrat in the Senate, stood on the Senate floor and compared the techniques used by our military at Guantanamo Bay to those “done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings.” (A few days later, Durbin slunk back to the floor and delivered a partial apology: “I am sorry if anything I said caused any offense or pain to those who have such bitter memories of the Holocaust, the greatest moral tragedy of our time. Nothing, nothing should ever be said to demean or diminish that moral tragedy.”) No apology to the men and women of Guantanamo.

Prof. Darius Regali -- author of the book Torture and Democracy and, like Rodriguez, a critic of CIA interrogations -- has described the techniques used by the Nazis: In Austria, Rejali writes, “the Viennese Gestapo... favored grinding cigarettes slowly into the back of a hand.” In Czechoslovakia “interrogation involved beating and whipping. A prisoner was ‘trampled, beaten with rubber hoses [and] mutilated.’ Interrogators pulled nails with special pliers.” In Poland the Nazis employed “full-body beatings with cudgels, iron bars, whips, brass knuckles, and chains tipped with spiked balls” as well as “whipping, hot irons, needles... forced boxing, crawling or walking on very hot metal surfaces...” In Denmark “torturers used razors to slash hands and arms and crushed lighted cigarettes on the flesh. Sometimes guards used the falaka, applying blows to the feet. They tied hands with barbed wire and handcuffs that tightened until the wrists were crushed.”

According to Rejali, the Nazis even had their own form of waterboarding. “At Auschwitz,” he writes, “Gestapo agents hung prisoners upside down and forced boiling water or oil into their nostrils.”

None of this is even remotely comparable to the techniques the CIA used on al-Qaeda terrorists. Yet many commentators and even senior United States senators feel unconstrained to publicly compare the men and women of the CIA to the Gestapo torturers who committed these acts. Others have compared the techniques we employed to the Khmer Rouge and Imperial Japan. As I explain in great detail in my book, Courting Disaster, these comparisons are factually incorrect and morally obtuse. We can have a legitimate debate over whether America should have employed enhanced interrogation techniques. But as Rejali told me, “Anyone who compares what we did to the Nazis is just totally off base.”

By Marc Thiessen  | June 10, 2010; 9:54 AM ET
Categories:  Thiessen  | Tags:  Marc Thiessen  
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What could possibly motivate defaming this country in the terms employed by Dodd and Durbin? What makes them hate? When did they start hating? What exactly do they hate? America, as it is constituted when their party is not in power? Surely they could have expressed themselves on the subject in other words.

Politically I am a moderate conservative; if these senators are liberals, they are a kind of liberal I will never understand. The category "liberal" carries no explanatory power for this sort of conduct.

Posted by: Roytex | June 10, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

I agree that to describe CIA interrogation techniques as "Nazi-like" is irresponsible. Furthermore, it is correct to distinguish between the intentions of the President of the United States to protect the citizens from further attack to the "impulses of a psychopath who wiles away the hours by making lamp shades out of human skin." But I would have appreciated if someone (especially a U.S. Senator)would have made a distinction between enemy combatants trying to kill U.S. soldiers that we captured on a battlefield and Jewish prisoners "arrested" by the Nazis from their houses while making Gefilte fish and shmaltz herring.

Posted by: survivor28 | June 10, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

durbin and dodd have no problem robbing people blind by taking favors and kick backs.
dodd has literally brought this country to its knees with the mismanagement of fanny mae and freddie mac and yet he has the nerve to make these unfounded accusations.
these morons should be ashamed of themselves and should be sent to russia to live out their lives amongst their friends.

america is still the greatest country in the world, although with no help from the idiot politicians. so throw them all out this november and repeat that every election. never fall for "this one is good", after their first term they all become thieves.

Posted by: pferd | June 10, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Nazi comparisons are always an example of somone picking up a crude weapon that lies near to hand. The same kind of comparisons are often met in articles by the right wing when they compare, say, Stalin to Hitler. Two different kettles of fish but thrown together to make a point.

The "Mengele" comparison is particularly odious but waterboarding remains torture whether it was practiced by US citizens in the name of "democracy" or "security" or by other nationals. The self-justification of torture by Rumsfeld not to mention the green light given by legal advisors will reamain a blot on US history forever.

CB in Hamburg

Posted by: chrisbrown12 | June 10, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Glad you agree Thiessen

Now if you could just talk to Glen Beck and the Tea Party who equate Acorn to SS and Obama to Hitler/Anti-Christ/Nazi etc. etc. etc.

The number of times Beck flashes that stupid Swastika sign is not even funny.

Posted by: arunc1 | June 10, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse



Posted by: pferd | June 10, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

I look at it like this:

Suppose there was an advanced race of aliens that were observing the Earth and they witnessed two events:

1) Pol Pot's henchman water-boarding someone in a Cambodian prison.

2) American intelligence officials water-boarding a guy in Guantanamo.

Would these aliens classifying these as the same behavior be "factually incorrect" and "morally obtuse?"

Hmm lets see? 2 humans tie 1 human down to a board and pour water over his face over and over again and make chattering sounds in between. The human on the board doesn't seem to enjoy it.

Why that's the exact same human behavior!

If Pol Pot's water boarding was torture ours was. If the Japanese's was, ours was. That's really the end of the debate.

To say anything more is to start a new debate: should we torture people but then say it isn't torture to make ourselves feel better about it or not torture at all?

Posted by: Gover | June 10, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

I did not expect these unpatriotic and flatly refutable lies from Senators.

Posted by: almorganiv | June 10, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Just when I thought that stupidy and historical ignorance could fall no further, we get this tripe "Bush and the 'specter of Mengele'"

Is this really the sort of thinking and perspective that is coming out of colleges these days? No wonder the rest of the world-- particularly the developing nations-- is kicking our butts.

Posted by: AlongTheWatchTowers | June 10, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Waterboarding was defined as torture by the United States (our government) to prosecute war criminals following the Second World War. It is torture. Don't try to hide behind highlighting political (outrageous I will admit) statements.

Posted by: Gruvers | June 10, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

What could possibly motivate defaming this country in the terms employed by Dodd and Durbin? What makes them hate? When did they start hating? What exactly do they hate? America, as it is constituted when their party is not in power? Surely they could have expressed themselves on the subject in other words.

Politically I am a moderate conservative; if these senators are liberals, they are a kind of liberal I will never understand. The category "liberal" carries no explanatory power for this sort of conduct.

Posted by: Roytex | June 10, 2010 10:21 AM


Many on the far-left hate America but for the most part people like Durbin hated President Bush. As you will dee in columns like this one, the kind of deep, passionate hatred that borders on the pathological.

Posted by: bbface21 | June 10, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

I am a former Marine, and figure I'm as patriotic as anyone. Waterboarding and other "enhanced" interrogation techniques are torture. Was George Bush a Nazi? I'd say not, although I have very little respect for his intellect, and even less respect for the advisors he chose - Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, Jay Bybee and John Yoo (the "lawyers" who trampled over the Geneva Convention)and Cheney's staff lawyer, David Addington. The hubris and sense of self-righteous entitlement of these men damaged our country - I call THEM unpatriotic. They cloaked their self-serving actions in the flag - or flag lapel pin- and viciously attacked anyone who questioned them. Like cockroaches, they chose to work where good Americans could not see what they were up to- because they knew their plans could not stand up to daylight or scrutiny.

Posted by: crewmom | June 10, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

"Enhanced interrogation." I just love that phrase. It's so, um, how shall I put this, nebulous. So Orwellian.

Posted by: bigfish2 | June 10, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

I'm against water boarding. It seems like a big waste of water, to me. Since we KNOW what they do to OUR PEOPLE, when they catch them. And we KNOW what they did on 911. And we KNOW that if they had a NUKE on 911, they would have used it. And we KNOW if they ever get their hands on one, they'll USE IT. I prefer to SKIN THEM ALIVE. How much skin do you think we'd have to peel back, before Achmed starts to spill his guts?
One American is worth more than ALL of our enemies. Don't ever forget that.

Posted by: GoomyGommy | June 10, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Thiessen used to work for Bush. For his benefit, and those who are offended by the comparisons made, and those who feel that torture can be rationalized: The difference between what we did and what the Nazis (and Soviets) did is in scale, that is the number of the victims. The techniques, whether you want to call them enhanced interrogation or torture, are the same.

It is sad, but under Bush/Cheney we became no better than the worse. It is even sadder that we will not punish those who gave the orders; we had enough courage to only punish those at the bottom of the hierarchy.

Posted by: AMviennaVA | June 10, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Thiessen is a pudgy little plunker whose one consistent theme is how everyone should just STOP PICKING ON the Bush Administration and realize that they were right after all, so there.

I wonder if the memory of his lunch money being taken from him, day after embarrassing school day, still stings after all these years.

Posted by: bokonon13 | June 10, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Yet the steps that Obama and Co. are taking are so much closer to the actions that Hitler took to gain control over Germany. Nothing said about that.

Posted by: Pilot1 | June 10, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

"None of this is even remotely comparable to the techniques the CIA used on al-Qaeda terrorists."

That may be true. However, remoteness is a matter of distance, not category, and that is what torture apologists like Mr. Thiessen would obscure. When President Bush and Vice President Cheney declare that they will do "whatever it takes" to protect the American people from terrorism -- with themselves being the sole judge of what that is -- then they explicitly declare that they recognize no legal or moral restraints upon their actions. THAT is why what distinguishes what depraved despots have done from what Bush and Cheney were willing to do is a matter of degree, not kind -- and it makes the Nazi comparisons overstated but not entirely inappropriate.

Posted by: Adam_Smith | June 10, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Anyone who listens to the likes of Durbin and Dodd, of the ethically challenged Dodds of Connecticut, deserves to have a GPS implant.

Posted by: sailhardy | June 10, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Bush said he authorized waterboarding of one Islamoid who killed 3,000 Americans to save several thousand more from Islamoid plots. The interrogation worked. The 9/11 Mastermind gave up two more major plots well underway and the names and locales of many, many major Muslim terrorists involved.
The plots were stopped, the Islamoids working for KSM were killed or arrested and in turn the arrestees gave up more Islamoids.

Bush said he would do it again, and the public approves. By 75% in a 2008 poll, the same public that the same year gave him only a 28% approval rating on his overall Presidential decision-making.

Something enemy loving Lefties find absolutely unfathomable - believing that enemy rights from having any discomfort trump stopping the butchery of Americans by a foreign enemy. IN their strange Lefty world, butchery of Americans is not a bad thing as long as in the end Rule of Law properly indicts and convicts the "alleged maimers and killers". But under Rule of Law, taking action to prevent such carnage is "unspeakably evil"!!!, as to be best cherished, Rule of Law only applies reactively. And their continued insistance that there are no foreign enemies, only misguided "innocent until proven guilty criminal suspects" is part and parcel of this. (You can't punish a criminal for a crime they haven't committed yet!)

Rodriguez herself falls prey to this:

"Instead, the administration engaged in a profoundly misguided attempt to extract information it believed could help to prevent the next Sept. 11."

Actually, the 9/11 Mastermind did squeal like a pig and several pending 9/11s were prevented.

Bush knows that a public that thought it was worth FDR and Truman burning or blasting 3 million Japanese civilians to death or severely maiming them while slowly starving them - all to save 1 US soldiers life for each 3,000 casualties inflicted - did not hurt Truman or FDR's long-term reputation.
So making the 9/11 Mastermind pretty uncomfortable because he wouldn't talk, in order to save another 3,000 innocent lives, ranks far more in the "morally acceptable region" than what FDR and Truman did.

Bush. No Hitler. Nicer to enemy populations than FDR or Truman ever were.

Posted by: ChrisFord1 | June 10, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Bush. No Hitler. Nicer to enemy populations than FDR or Truman ever were.

Or Franklin, who initiated actions to strip enemy loyalists of land, property without trial and exile them. As bad as Hitler, if Bush is.

Or Lincoln, who blockaded the South. Even of medicine. Suspended habeas corpus. Violated clauses of the Sacred Constitution!! Arrested thousands and held them without trial, many who died of disease and malnutrition while locked up. No doubt Hitler's great grandfather.

Grant the butcher. Says it all, to the likes of Katrina VandenHeuval.

Wilson. Connived with the Brits and French to maintain the blockade of Germany a year AFTER the Armistice, starving 1.2 million German civilians to death in the process - so Victor's terms would be accepted in toto.

Eisenhower. As supreme Allied commander, used terror tactics in war. Turned over prisoners to the Brits and Gurkhas for terror interrogations. Starved 6,000 German POWs to death after wars end...a defense offered at Nurmenberg that Allies besides the Soviets were also outside Geneva protection compliance. Sent 250,000 Soviet POWs back to be executed by the Soviets. Not Hitler, but a tool of Stalin's crimes.

LBJ. Hitlerlike. Authorized bombing and napalming of enemy villages when people from villages fired on US, ARVN forces. Authorized the Phoenix assassination program. Sent POWs to ARVN "tiger cages".

Nixon, not as bad as FDR, Truman, LBJ on the enemy, but "worse than Hitler" to the Left, for other reasons.

Posted by: ChrisFord1 | June 10, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Bush and the other torturers are going to jail. This is the United States, a country with character that doesn't torture. I'm so glad you and your associates are out of power. You are all of low character and never deserved, or earned, the honor of leading our country. You can stand with the neocons. I'll stand with Americans who want justice brought to the worst administration in US history.

Posted by: TylerHealey | June 10, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

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