Many Americans have expressed shock that the Bush administration devised a legal framework for torturing detainees. The activist Naomi Klein asks: why the big fuss? America has been engaging in torture for decades. I can't evaluate all of her charges, but it did pique my curiosity about the treatment of German POWs, especially high-level Nazi officers. Did the US military use "enhanced interrogation techniques" to extract intelligence from high-value Nazi detainees?
First, it is necessary to distinguish between the overall treatment of POWs and the interrogation techniques used on specific individuals. During the war, the US treated German POWs in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. After the war, however, General Eisenhower changed the status of the prisoners to DEF's (Disarmed Enemy Forces), and there is no question that many prisoners in American control suffered and died from starvation, sickness and exposure, although this must be seen against the backdrop of a severe food shortage in Europe in 1945 and 1946.
With respect to torture, Caleb Miller of the History News Network examined the historical record concerning the treatment of German POWs and DEFs. While there were many documented instances of brutality and "rough treatment", there is no evidence that torture was used by American interrogators to extract intelligence:
There are many allegations of mistreatment and unwarranted brutality. If reclassification of a detainee in order to cut his or her rations constitutes "torture," then some may conclude that Nazis were "tortured" after the fall of Berlin. If rough treatment designed to break an individual's will constitutes torture, then some may conclude that Nazis were tortured when subjected to rougher treatment, Holocaust films and American propaganda in the reeducation process.
There is no documented evidence that torture was used to gain intelligence from captured Nazis.
British historian Giles MacDonogh in his book After the Reich (read my review) charges that SS officers were subjected to brutal torture by US military interrogators at a prison facility near Stuttgart:
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.”
Macdonogh's source for this appears to be 1949 article in the Progressive Magazine: American Atrocities in Germany by Judge Edward Van Roden. But Van Roden himself admitted he didn't write the article, and he later disavowed its content before a US Senate hearing. Subsequent investigations by General Lucius Clay and others revealed that out of the 127 men who had claimed their "testicles were destroyed", none were destroyed. The accusations of torture were a (in part, successful) gambit to gain acquittal from charges of serious war crimes (the Malmedy Massacre).
The master interrogators at Fort Hunt knew that torture would have been counterproductive. They revealed their secrets in 2007 to the Washington Post:
"We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture," said Henry Kolm, 90, an MIT physicist who had been assigned to play chess in Germany with Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess.
With respect to the treatment of German detainees in WWII, at least, Naomi Wolf is wrong: there was no systemic program to use torture techniques to extract intelligence