Thursday, May 17, 2007

Kill the Enemy, Don't Torture the Prisoners...

Two gentlemen for whom I have great admiration, and from whom I learned important leadership and operational lessons, have an article in the Washington Post this morning clearly articulating the point that EVERY professional soldier knows instinctively. Generals Krulak and Hoar place the torture issue, and any abuse that results from a "flexibile" policy on it, squarely on the shoulders of leaders, starting at the TOP. They point out that "any degree of 'flexibility' about torture at the top drops down the chain of command like a stone -- the rare exception fast becoming the rule." Humane treatment of prisoners is a cardinal rule of warfare. Torture is anathema to professional soldiers. Frankly, torture yields little actionable intelligence.

The other night during the Republican debate (and I use that term so loosely that if it were my hat band, I'd be blinded), John McCain made this point. He should know. He suffered unimaginable torture at the hands of the Vietnamese Communists during his 5 years as a POW held in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton." Actually, the "Hilton" was a prison built by the French during their colonial mismanagement of Indo-China--another on a long list of reasons to detest the French. Read the book "P.O.W." Your view of the difference between Us and Them will be forever changed. But I digress.

John McCain, and every other American POW of that war, will freely admit that they eventually "broke" under torture. They will also quickly tell you that the information they gave up when they finally "broke" was of very little operational use to the enemy. Torture yields no valuable intelligence.

By contrast, Viet Cong captured by US forces, and humanely treated, often turned on their communist brethren and became guides for US units. The Viet Cong turncoats did so because they were able to clearly recognize the difference between the two antagonists. The communists were brutal, totalitarian monsters who terrorized the population with torture, assassination, and rape. We weren't perfect, but by comparison to the communists, American conduct of the war was near "angelic." And that is the point.

We MUST maintain the moral high ground as a society. When we go to war, we should be clear on our objectives and prosecute the war with every legal and ethical tool in our kit bag. And, the ENTIRE NATION must be on a war footing. Otherwise, we are just playing with guns.

When a leader indicates a slight wavering with regard to historically iron-clad standards, subordinates inevitably take that as a clear sign that "all's fair" and abuses result. Abu Graib is case in point.

Fox News "moderators" during this week's Republican debate posed a presidential decision situation that supposed a terror attack on American soil and the intelligence that other attacks were imminent. The hypothetical situation was that we had prisoners who we believed had information about the coming attacks. The question was should we torture them to save American lives. I was disappointed in all but McCain's "No Torture" response.

The real question that begs an answer is why our national leaders have bungled our war effort so badly that nearly 6 years after 9-11, we are still worried about a WMD attack on our soil. The German people were "innocent" but we killed millions of them from 1942 to 1945 and prevented Hitler from building his own atomic weapons and missiles and aircraft to deliver them to New York. Ditto the Japanese. Today, the Japanese and Germans are our most staunch allies on the planet.

We must destroy Iran, Syria, North Korea, and anyone else who is developing weapons or supporting those trying to kill us. The people in those nations will be our friends for another century.
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