Blowback: America’s Recruitment of Nazis and its Destructive Impact

Of note is the re-publication of Blowback: America’s Recruitment of Nazis and Its Destructive Impact on Our Domestic and Foreign Policy (2014; originally published in 1988) by Christopher Simpson who served as a member of the interagency advisory panel for the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

The NARA panel was charged with overseeing declassification of CIA’s records relating to its work with Nazi criminals. In his New Introduction (2014) Mr. Simpson shows how intelligence agencies abuse their power to obstruct declassification of records as well as intentionally destroying records. In particular, he shows how the CIA continues to withhold relevant documents about “the Holocaust and the role of Nazi and Axis war criminals in the U.S. Cold War covert operations.”

We learn from Mr. Simpson that in 2004, President Bush appointed John Choon Yoo to the NARA panel. Yoo was the author of the infamous torture memos that provided a dubious legal rational for systematic torture of POWs which is explicitly prohibited by the Geneva Convention.

Simpson notes that “Many people have noted the overlap between Yoo’s recommendations and the techniques used in Nazi and Axis concentration camps, as well as in Stalin-era Gulag prisons.

It also appears that the CIA’s euphemism for torture—“enhanced interrogation” – a phrase that was adopted as well by President Bush and Vice President Cheney — was imported from the Gestapo. The German phrase, “Verschärfte Vernehmung” was used by the Gestapo to camouflage torture. The translation in English is “enhanced interrogation” or “intensified interrogation” or “sharpened interrogation.”

The phrase appears to have been concocted in 1937, to describe a form of torture that would leave no marks; thereby saving embarrassment when wounded torture victims ended up in court. The methods described in a Gestapo memo are indistinguishable from those described as “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the Yoo memoranda. Moreover, the Gestapo memo indicates that the Nazis were adamant that their “enhanced interrogation techniques” would be carefully restricted and controlled, and monitored by an elite professional staff, and strictly reserved for certain categories of prisoner.

Ironically, the Gestapo memo forbids waterboarding, hypothermia and other techniques that the Bush Administration permitted. It also imposed strict limits on how these “enhanced techniques” could be used. In practice, as is usual when sadism is legitimized, there was a race to the bottom and the restrictions were quickly overcome. (Read Verschärfte Vernehmung, The Atlantic, 2007 (Hentoff. Gestapo Inheritance. Village Voice, 2007)