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Friday, May 6, 2011

Let's beat the s#*t out of them prisoners

The Abu Ghraib hokey pokey
 And insert electrodes in their urethras and watch the line dance when we turn them on. 

The United States has ratified the four  Geneva Conventions.  It has not ratified the two protocols which make more extensive explanations of the Conventions.  Convention III deals specifically with the treatment of prisoners of war and forbids the use of torture.  The U.S.  has ratified this Convention.  It is the one that soldiers are drilled on and affirms that any soldier taken prisoner need only give his/her name, rank, and serial number to the captors.  A soldier need not give any information that would give advantage to the enemy on the field of battle or regarding the defenses of the soldier's country. 

In the war on terror and its invasions by the U.S., some of the political and military leaders have blown off those Convention ratifications.   Dick Cheney is among the chief advocates of refusing to acknowledge them.  Violations first became apparent at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, where American soldiers exposed prisoners to humiliation and torture.  Then it came to light that what some CIA and military personnel like to call "enhanced interrogations" was being used on prominent Al Qaida captives.   Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, for example, was waterboarded 183 times.  

From the military standpoint, dismissing the Geneva Conventions is a two edged sword.  If the U.S., which has ratified them, chooses to ignore them, why should any country which holds U.S. prisoners of war adhere to that standard of behavior to prisoners?  And if, prisoners can  expect to be subjected to torture, they become valuable and an object of war, because they will be worked over to provide intelligence to the enemy which can be used against the U.S.  If torture becomes a routine part of being a prisoner, commanders know that some prisoners will crack and reveal a lot more than their names, ranks, and serial numbers.  It might be better from the standpoint of military strategy to allow no prisoners to be taken.   Dead soldiers won't talk.  So, in trashing the Geneva Conventions, the rules of war change for all sides.

When a person taken as prisoner of war knows his country will torture, he understands that he cannot expect humane treatment, as his  country can expect others to retaliate in kind.   And so, the soldier understands that not talking to the enemy is not really a matter of principle because the major consideration is personal survival.  A country which betrays the principles of decency it has espoused can expect betrayal.

Soldiers are indoctrinated in  expected behavior in the eventuality that they are ever taken prisoners of war.  The first obligation is to attempt to escape.  Those who know classified information are given special sessions in how to conduct themselves during interrogations if taken prisoner.   In the case of the men I served with, a main concern centered on the fact that the men who assembled, maintained, and otherwise worked with guided missiles of the time knew the engineering for a feature of the guidance units that prevented the missiles from being jammed and destroyed by enemy radar.  If the Cold War went hot and missile bases were overrun by an enemy, a primary goal of theirs would be to find out how that anti-jamming device worked.  With that information, American air defense could be rendered useless and any missile strikes against the enemy could be easily thwarted.  So, we had regular "what if" training sessions, the main point being to invoke our right under the Geneva Convention to give only name, rank, and serial number.  

Of course, we knew that our potential adversaries would not most likely observe the Geneva Conventions.  And so, we were thoroughly drilled on what the result would be if we disclosed sensitive information and what would happen to our comrades in arms and our country.  We were told bluntly how we would be regarded if we betrayed secrets and important information, but we were assured that our country would observe the Geneva Conventions and use all military and diplomatic powers to see that we were treated according to the standards specified.   In other words, we were assured that our country would abide by the rules and, therefore, we would be expected to follow them.

Those who advocate torture and enhanced interrogation of other forms are in effect denying the U.S. observance of the Geneva Conventions.  While there have been a few who ignore and dismiss them, most people who serve or command on the front lines wonder if the folks ensconced in the bureaucratic executive chairs have the slightest notions of what the implications the denial of the Geneva Conventions for the people who do the actual fighting.  And for the people who represent the U.S. to other governments and cultures, the demonstrations of perfidy in adhering to principles the U.S. has endorsed greatly diminishes its credibility.

As soon as Osama bin Laden was killed, the torture lobby started making claims that the enhanced interrogations it advocates were what produced the information that led to finding him.  Almost every major news medium has challenged the speciousness of that claim, and the The New Yorker has the most incisive take on the issue. 

From the military standpoint, the capture or removal of bin Laden was an essential part of the declared mission we had in going into Afghanistan ten years ago.  Although some are calling his removal a political assassination, it was a military objective from the outset and was carried out as an act of war.  
God bless the U.S.A.
But clamoring by the torture advocates for credit puts on display what an inanely  juvenile and petty business American politics has become.  They are in fact arguing against the country sticking to its principles with integrity.  They are the same people who proclaim American exceptionalism so loudly, and by demonstration define exceptionalism as the making of exceptions to its moral stance.  

Advocating torture defines the country in profound ways.  Many people of the world, including Americans, find that definition depraved.   

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States