After World War II, it was SS prisoners in Germany's Landsberg prison. After 9-11, it was Guantanamo. The U.S. repeats its sins, but also repeats its repentance.
BERLIN — The U.S. Senate report on torture contains repulsive details about mock executions, interrogations of suspects with an electric drill placed threateningly near their backsides, five days of sleep deprivation.
Sixty-five years ago, another congressional committee published similar details — and that had consequences. The details concerned the brutal methods of U.S. military investigators against imprisoned Nazis, particularly former members of the SS.
The consequences? A number of verdicts against the Nazis were reversed. Many SS perpetrators serving sentences in Landsberg prison were set free, all because the interrogations — and hence the verdicts — did not abide by American legal standards.
Measured against that, the new report should lead to the remaining Guantánamo detainees being freed. But that's not likely to happen for several reasons. While the Nazis had been defeated by the time of the report 65 years ago, al-Qaeda is still very much intact. A second reason is that al-Qaeda deliberately attacked American civilians in 2001, which is why Congress unanimously approved a harsh reaction against it. Finally, the report is too politically controversial for it to serve the White House as a guiding principle.
The Republicans are furious because they believe the Democrats were trying to evade joint Congressional responsibility for the anti-terror battle that began after Sept. 11. The Democrats, what with President Barack Obama's deployment of drones, have their own thorny legal issue to deal with. And nobody — in view of ISIS terror and Russian President Vladimir Putin's policies — wants to go out all guns blazing against the secret intelligence services. Consensus looks possible, and that would involve agreeing to view the report as a "never again" warning and focusing on moving forward.
The same hope of setting a standard for intelligence services proved deceitful after 1950, deceitful after the CIA revelations of the 1970s — and the deceit continues still. There are situations where feelings determine behavior. The only wish fulfilled here is that America remains more open than others about its mistakes and crimes.