Friday, January 07, 2005

Al Qaeda is just laughing at us

For anyone who need a fairly in-depth look at the real story behind the alleged torture of GWOT detainees, go check out Heather MacDonald's piece "How to Interrogate Terrorists." It's lengthy, but I'll try to give you a feel for it.

Regarding the Abu Ghraib scandal:

The Pentagon’s reaction to the scandal was swift and sweeping. It stripped interrogators not just of stress options but of traditional techniques long regarded as uncontroversial as well. Red tape now entangles the interrogation process, and detainees know that their adversaries’ hands are tied.

With a new enemy, unlike any we have ever fought, we need a fundamental change in thinking:

The need for rethinking interrogation doctrine in the war on terror will not go away, however. The Islamist enemy is unlike any the military has encountered in the past. If current wisdom on the rules of war prohibits making any distinction between a terrorist and a lawful combatant, then that orthodoxy needs to change.

Regarding the Geneva Convention:

Obedience to Geneva rules rests on another bedrock moral principle: reciprocity. Nations will treat an enemy’s soldiers humanely because they want and expect their adversaries to do the same. Terrorists flout every civilized norm animating the conventions. Their whole purpose is to kill noncombatants, to blend into civilian populations, and to conceal their weapons. They pay no heed whatever to the golden rule; anyone who falls into their hands will most certainly not enjoy commissary privileges and wages, per the Geneva mandates. He—or she—may even lose his head.

They quickly learned how to work the system:

Consistent with the president’s call for humane treatment, prisoners received expert medical care, three culturally appropriate meals each day, and daily opportunities for prayer, showers, and exercise. They had mail privileges and reading materials. Their biggest annoyance was boredom, recalls one interrogator.

The captives protested every perceived infringement of their rights but, as in Afghanistan, ignored any reciprocal obligation. They hurled excrement and urine at guards, used their blankets as garrotes, and created additional weapons out of anything they could get their hands on—including a sink wrenched off a wall. Guards who responded to the attacks—with pepper spray or a water hose, say—got punished and, in one case, court-martialed.

What ARE our guards allowed to do?

To read the techniques requested is to understand how restrained the military has been in its approach to terror detainees—and how utterly false the torture narrative has been. Here’s what the interrogators assumed they could not do without clearance from the secretary of defense: yell at detainees (though never in their ears), use deception (such as posing as Saudi intelligence agents), and put detainees on MREs (meals ready to eat—vacuum-sealed food pouches eaten by millions of soldiers, as well as vacationing backpackers) instead of hot rations. The interrogators promised that this dangerous dietary measure would be used only in extremis, pending local approval and special training.

The first and third aspects of this 'torture' have been regular aspects of my entire military career. I thought everyone got yelled at and ate vacuum-sealed food . . .

She goes into much more detail, but here's her final analysis:

If we hope to succeed in the war on terror, the final product must allow interrogators to use stress techniques against unlawful combatants. Chris Mackey testifies to how “ineffective schoolhouse methods were in getting prisoners to talk.” He warns that his team “failed to break prisoners who I have no doubt knew of terrorist plots or at least terrorist cells that may one day do us harm. Perhaps they would have talked if faced with harsher methods.”

Heather comes to this conclusion:

Human Rights Watch, the ICRC, Amnesty International, and the other self-professed guardians of humanitarianism need to come back to earth—to the real world in which torture means what the Nazis and the Japanese did in their concentration and POW camps in World War II; the world in which evil regimes, like those we fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, don’t follow the Miranda rules or the Convention Against Torture but instead gas children, bury people alive, set wild animals on soccer players who lose, and hang adulterous women by truckloads before stadiums full of spectators; the world in which barbarous death cults behead female aid workers, bomb crowded railway stations, and fly planes filled with hundreds of innocent passengers into buildings filled with thousands of innocent and unsuspecting civilians. By definition, our terrorist enemies and their state supporters have declared themselves enemies of the civilized order and its humanitarian rules. In fighting them, we must of course hold ourselves to our own high moral standards without, however, succumbing to the utopian illusion that we can prevail while immaculately observing every precept of the Sermon on the Mount. It is the necessity of this fallen world that we must oppose evil with force; and we must use all the lawful means necessary to ensure that good, rather than evil, triumphs.

Eye opening stuff. Our country's leadership needs to take a realistic look at the enemy we're up against and what it will take to win this war. We must maintain high standards of human decency, but we also must realize that these ridiculous levels of bureaucracy and soft techniques are costing us lives.

I think that's my longest post yet. I think I'll call it a night.

|