When leafing through a copy of the New York Review of Books from a few weeks back, I came across Patricia Meehan’s review (behind paywall, unfortunately) of Giles MacDonogh’s After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation. It’s an eye-opener.
At Schwaebisch Hall, a particularly infamous prison near Stuttgart for officials suspected of major war crimes, MacDonogh writes:The Americans had used methods similar to those employed by the SS in Dachau. … Worse still were the mock executions, where the men were led off in hoods, while their guards told them they were approaching the gallows. Prisoners were actually lifted bodily off the ground to convince them they were about to swing. More conventional methods of torture included kicks to the groin, deprivation of sleep and food and savage beatings. When the Americans set up a commission of inquiry into the methods used by their investigators, they found that, of the 139 cases examined, 137 had “had their testicles permanently destroyed by kicks received from the American War Crimes Investigation team.”
within a year of the end of the war, the priorities had changed to concentrated intelligence-gathering about the Russians. Anyone of any nationality who had had any contact with the Soviet Zone as a deserter, refugee or ex-POW of the Russians and who fell into British or American hands could find himself in one of these interrogation centers, and exposed to appalling brutality. Among these were actual Soviet agents … Their methods included, among other things, savage beatings, starvation, deprivation of sleep, and removal of clothing. Men were kept standing for hours. Some only made it to interrogation on all fours. Many never came out alive … In the British-run prisons, when nothing more could be got out of a prisoner he was brought before a secret military court where he would be tried on a trumped-up charge; his silence was ensured by a severe prison sentence. The Political Branch of the British Control Commission soon stopped that particular practice. According to one Political Branch document, a sentence of any kind could not be imposed on someone “whose only crime is to have had the misfortune to acquire a too detailed knowledge of our methods of interrogation.”
I haven’t seen any discussion of this in the several weeks since the article was published (or the longer period since the book itself came out). I suspect that this is because it’s awkward for both opponents and supporters of torture. Many US anti-torture people have pointed, quite rightly, to the similarities between what the US government has done or has allowed to be done on its behalf, and what Nazi interrogators used to do. Nonetheless, the rhetorical force of this analogy is weakened if it extends to the kinds of things that US soldiers did to the Nazis when they caught them. But torture-porn enthusiasts like Alan Dershowitz also are unlikely to take this up either, because they don’t like to get too specific about what torture actually involves for the victims. The “we pulped the testicles of Nazis too, you know” argument isn’t a winning rhetorical strategy, because even people who might want revenge on the Nazis, are likely to cringe at the all-too-visceral imagined sensation of being at the receiving end of testicle-pulping.