Thursday, April 30, 2009

Obama was wrong: Britain did torture during World War II

Winston Churchill's chief "torturer," Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Scotland, O.B.E.

It was kind of odd, I thought, but in last night's press conference, in support of his decision to forswear use of rough interrogation techniques by the U.S. against terrorists, President Obama went out his way to summon up the ghost of Winston Churchill by saying this:

I was struck by an article that I was reading the other day talking about the fact that the British during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees. And Churchill said, "We don't torture," when the entire British -- all of the British people were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat.
Not so, it turns out. Writing in Britain's' Guardian, Obama supporter Michael Tomasky points to this report that appeared in his newspaper in 2005 about "The London Cage," as an interrogation center run by a secretive section of Britain's MI-5 (the counter-intelligence security service). It tells the story of how the under the command of Lt. Col. Alexander Scotland, an aging World War I veteran recalled to service in 1939 because of his record of getting information out of German prisoners in the earlier war, used "beatings, sleep deprivation and starvation," among other measures on an unknown number of the 3,753 prisoners who were held there at some point over many years (up until three years after the war ended!). More than 1,000 of these men were persuaded by Lt. Col. Scotland and his men to confess to war crimes.

Now, prisoners at The London Cage were not ordinary Werhmacht soldiers and sailors. Most were SS and Gestapo men suspected of such crimes as murdering British POWs (sort of the equivalent of suspected al Qaeda terrorists?). Still, the methods were harsh. According to the Guardian, a post-war MI-5 assessment found "detailed repeated breaches of the Geneva convention, with...admissions that prisoners had been forced to kneel while being beaten about the head; forced to stand to attention for up to 26 hours; threatened with execution; or threatened with 'an unnecessary operation'."

One SS captain named Knoechlein made a written complaint in which he said he had been "stripped...deprived of sleep for four days and nights, and starved." And that was only the start:

The guards kicked him each time he passed, he alleges, while his interrogators boasted that they were "much better" than the "Gestapo in Alexanderplatz". After being forced to perform rigorous exercises until he collapsed, he says he was compelled to walk in a tight circle for four hours. On complaining to Scotland that he was being kicked even "by ordinary soldiers without a rank", Knoechlein alleges that he was doused in cold water, pushed down stairs, and beaten with a cudgel. Later, he says, he was forced to stand beside a large gas stove with all its rings lit before being confined in a shower which sprayed extremely cold water from the sides as well as from above. Finally, the SS man says, he and another prisoner were taken into the gardens behind the mansions, where they were forced to run in circles while carrying heavy logs.
On top of that, Scotland did his best to keep the International Red Cross out of the Cage:

Scotland went on to argue that the Red Cross need not be admitted, because his prisoners were either civilians [technically, Gestapo agents were civilian police officers], or "criminals within the armed forces" [e.g., the SS], and neither, he said, were protected by the Geneva convention.
Rough stuff. But was it really too rough for the likes of SS killers? Did it strip the British nation and people of their values? Did it destroy the rule of law in the United Kingdom? Did it pull the British down to the level of Nazi SS/Gestapo brutality?

Those are the questions that Americans really need to ask themselves, today. And President Obama should bone up on his WWII history before invoking Churchill again.

What do you think? Post a comment.

(Hat tip: RealClearPolitics)


  1. the technique of the "big lie" and constructed evidence results in Snowball's being driven out from Animal farm, leaving Napoleon in sole command. The discredited Snowball can now be blamed whenever problems arise.

  2. I think the point of the speech was that we, as Americans, do not bow down to the levels of our enemies. It is unfortunate that our politicians seem to have trouble finding valid, and unassailable, references for their arguments, but the point that America will follow the Geneva agreement was the key take away.

  3. Why wouldn't the Geneva Convention cover Waffen SS -- uniformed soldiers comprising part of Germany's regular military forces?

  4. Well its a good thing people take a random internet story for fact. Why dont you do a little more research on the matter? You will find that the British did not systematically torture, and when they did, it was only a local event perpetrated by a few rogue men.

  5. Torture too good, Geneva Convention my foot.
    One bullet and be done with it.