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China Inspired Interrogations at Guantanamo

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China Inspired Interrogations at Guantanamo
by: Scott Shane 
The New York Times

Washington - The military trainers who came to Guantánamo 
Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class 
on a chart showing the effects of "coercive management 
techniques" for possible use on prisoners, including "sleep 
deprivation," "prolonged constraint," and "exposure." 

What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was 
that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air 
Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during 
the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, 
from American prisoners. 

The recycled chart is the latest and most vivid evidence 
of the way Communist interrogation methods that the United 
States long described as torture became the basis for 
interrogations both by the military at the base at 
Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and by the Central Intelligence 

Some methods were used against a small number of prisoners 
at Guantánamo before 2005, when Congress banned the use of 
coercion by the military. The C.I.A. is still authorized 
by President Bush to use a number of secret "alternative" 
interrogation methods. 

Several Guantánamo documents, including the chart outlining 
coercive methods, were made public at a Senate Armed 
Services Committee hearing June 17 that examined how such 
tactics came to be employed. 


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But committee investigators were not aware of the chart's 
source in the half-century-old journal article, a connect-
ion pointed out to The New York Times by an independent 
expert on interrogation who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The 1957 article from which the chart was copied was 
entitled "Communist Attempts to Elicit False Confessions 
From Air Force Prisoners of War" and written by Alfred D. 
Biderman, a sociologist then working for the Air Force, 
who died in 2003. Mr. Biderman had interviewed American 
prisoners returning from North Korea, some of whom had 
been filmed by their Chinese interrogators confessing to 
germ warfare and other atrocities. 

Those orchestrated confessions led to allegations that the 
American prisoners had been "brainwashed," and provoked 
the military to revamp its training to give some military 
personnel a taste of the enemies' harsh methods to 
inoculate them against quick capitulation if captured. 

In 2002, the training program, known as SERE, for Survival, 
Evasion, Resistance, Escape, became a source of interroga-
tion methods both for the C.I.A. and the military. In what 
critics describe as a remarkable case of historical 
amnesia, officials who drew on the SERE program appear to 
have been unaware that it had been created as a result of 
concern about false confessions by American prisoners. 

Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan and chairman of 
the Senate Armed Services Committee, said after reviewing 
the 1957 article that "every American would be shocked" by 
the origin of the training document.

"What makes this document doubly stunning is that these 
were techniques to get false confessions," Mr. Levin said. 
"People say we need intelligence, and we do. But we don't 
need false intelligence." 


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A Defense Department spokesman, Lt. Col Patrick Ryder, 
said he could not comment on the Guantánamo training chart. 
"I can't speculate on previous decisions that may have been 
made prior to current D.O.D. policy on interrogations," 
Colonel Ryder said. "I can tell you that current D.O.D. 
policy is clear - we treat all detainees humanely." 

Mr. Biderman's 1957 article described "one form of torture" 
used by the Chinese as forcing American prisoners to stand 
"for exceedingly long periods," sometimes in conditions of 
"extreme cold." Such passive methods, he wrote, were more 
common than outright physical violence. Prolonged standing 
and exposure to cold have both been used by American 
military and C.I.A. interrogators against terrorist 

The chart also listed other techniques used by the Chinese, 
including "Semi-Starvation," "Exploitation of Wounds," and 
"Filthy, Infested Surroundings," and with their effects: 
"Makes Victim Dependent on Interrogator," "Weakens Mental 
and Physical Ability to Resist," and "Reduces Prisoner to 
'Animal Level' Concerns." 

The only change made in the chart presented at Guantánamo 
was to drop its original title: "Communist Coercive Methods 
for Eliciting Individual Compliance." 

The documents released last month include an e-mail message 
from two SERE trainers reporting on a trip to Guantánamo 
from Dec. 29, 2002, to Jan. 4, 2003. Their purpose, the 
message said, was to present to interrogators "the theory 
and application of the physical pressures utilized during 
our training." 

The sessions included "an in-depth class on Biderman's 
Principles," the message said, referring to the chart from 
Mr. Biderman's 1957 article. Versions of the same chart, 
often identified as "Biderman's Chart of Coercion," have 
circulated on anti-cult sites on the Web, where the methods 
are used to describe how cults control their members. 

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Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, a psychiatrist who also studied 
the returning prisoners of war and wrote an accompanying 
article in the same 1957 issue of The Bulletin of the New 
York Academy of Medicine, said in an interview that he 
was disturbed to learn that the Chinese methods had been 
recycled and taught at Guantánamo.

"It saddens me," said Dr. Lifton, who wrote a 1961 book on 
what the Chinese called "thought reform" and became known 
in popular American parlance as brainwashing. He called the 
use of the Chinese techniques by American interrogators at 
Guantánamo a "180-degree turn." 

The harshest known interrogation at Guantánamo was that 
of Mohammed al-Qahtani, a member of Al Qaeda suspected of 
being the intended 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks. 
Mr. Qahtani's interrogation involved sleep deprivation, 
stress positions, exposure to cold and other methods also 
used by the Chinese. 

Terror charges against Mr. Qahtani were dropped unexpected-
ly in May. Officials said the charges could be reinstated 
later and declined to say whether the decision was 
influenced by concern about Mr. Qahtani's treatment. 

Mr. Bush has defended the use the interrogation methods, 
saying they helped provide critical intelligence and 
prevented new terrorist attacks. But the issue continues 
to complicate the long-delayed prosecutions now proceeding 
at Guantánamo. 

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Qaeda member accused of playing 
a major role in the bombing of the American destroyer Cole 
in Yemen in 2000, was charged with murder and other crimes 
on Monday. In previous hearings, Mr. Nashiri, who was 
subjected to waterboarding, has said he confessed to 
participating in the bombing falsely only because he was 

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