Sunday, December 21, 2008

One Man's Cold Oatmeal

My biggest criticism of the GEN(R) McCaffrey report on his most recent trip to Iraq was of his statement that one of the mistakes we made in the war was that we had
issued illegal orders which resulted during the initial years in the systematic widespread mistreatment (and occasional torture) of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan detainees under our control.

My objection was that the US military does not and will not systemically direct nor tolerate torture, abuse, or mistreatment. When individuals do act in a manner that would be categorized as such, the military demonstrates--quickly--that it can and does police itself. One of the problems of discussing abuse/torture is the wide variance of definitions, and the spectrum of interpretations as to what is, and is not, permissible under international law, the US law of land warfare, and the Geneva conventions with regards to the treatment of detainees, prisoners, and prisoners of war.
The National Review published the best article I've seen yet as to the muddying of the waters on the torture dialogue. I guess that one man's cold oatmeal is another man's torture.
You can identify abuse or mistreatment anywhere, if your predisposed to find it. Sometimes, prisoners are "mistreated" because it is not physically possible to care for them any better. My counterpart's current detention facility is pretty austere, dirty, dark and gloomy--as are the barracks, offices, and common areas. The detainees are housed as well as the police, is that good enough?
Ironically, I think that under the current (hysterical) definitions of mistreatment of detainees/prisoners, you could make an argument that the 24th ID--commanded by then-MG McCafferey-- mistreated prisoners during the first Gulf War. We cared for them as well as we could while we continued to prosecute our mission. Had I deferred mission accomplishment in order to ensure that our prisoners were warmer, dryer, better fed, and all around more comfy-cosie than we were, MG McCafferey would've been the first to dig into my ass--and rightfully so.
One of the problems our military faces today is the highly partisan nature of the scrutiny of detainee/prisoner operations. The rules used to pass the common sense test, but now that the rules are being parsed in the rarefied air of partisan politics, common sense (guided by the experience and judgment of military professionals) is out the window. Our system is now insane (see Boumediene v. Bush).
The Geneva Conventions and the US' Law of Land Warfare were inspired specifically "by the desire to diminish the evils of war." These covenants unambiguously forbid the
manner in which Al Qaeda wages war, and are meant to encourage warring parties to kill each other in a civilized manner.
Prior to 9/11, I would have said that if I came across my enemy on the battlefield dressed as a civilian and wantonly killing non-combatants, it would be perfectly legal to execute him on the spot. That I wouldn't do so would be as a matter of military policy and procedure, not law. Were I to take him into custody, I would treat him IAW the Geneva Conventions because that is what we are wont to do (we're the good guys), not what we are mandated to do.
I get the feeling that the extraordinary protections accorded US prisoners/detainees are a result of the fact that we are sitting fat and happy, and secure because of the lack of follow-on attacks since 9/11. Following another (as or more pernicious) attack, those who scream the loudest about the brutality of our military/security forces will be the ones screaming loudest that we haven't done enough.

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