Monday, April 03, 2006

Grandfather Gitmo

Within eighteen months of the end of World War II, British authorities began a program of secret detention and torture of suspected Soviet sympathisers and other undesirable communist affiliates. Now, for the first time in 60 years, photographs of these ill-fated men and woman have been published in the Guardian. Grim stuff, to be sure, and descriptions of the various torture techniques practiced then by the British Ministry of Defence bear an eerie resemblance to those that have been detailed in Guantanamo Bay and other US military detention facilities:
The pictures show men who had suffered months of starvation, sleep deprivation, beatings and extreme cold at one of a number of interrogation centres run by the War Office in postwar Germany.

A few were starved or beaten to death, while British soldiers are alleged to have tortured some victims with thumb screws and shin screws recovered from a gestapo prison. The men in the photographs are not Nazis, however, but suspected communists, arrested in 1946 because they were thought to support the Soviet Union, an ally 18 months earlier.

Apparently believing that war with the Soviet Union was inevitable, the War Office was seeking information about Russian military and intelligence methods. Dozens of women were also detained and tortured, as were a number of genuine Soviet agents, scores of suspected Nazis, and former members of the SS.
Naturally enough, the then Labour government kept things hushed up because, after all, they're British. I strongly suspect that, had such internment camps been known then, British officials would have roundly dismissed any criticisms, claiming that the United Kingdom does not torture prisoners, and would have expected their words to be believed.

I have to wonder if Gitmo demonstrates for us a case of the historically ignorant acting out a fateful repetition or one of the historically informed thinking this was a really good idea.

[via MFLane at]


Blogger The Misanthrope said...

When it comes to prisoners and torture I am not sure any country is innocent, which does not make it right, it just tells me all humans in power suck.

11:41 AM  
Blogger theBhc said...

But, of course, we in the West have long assumed that our governments comport themselves proper like, when, in fact, they are completely capable of being as equally beastly as any of those damned communists.

1:46 PM  

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