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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

On Christmas And Philosophy, Or, Who Would Jesus Torture?

Here we are in the depths of the Holidays and we have been offered Seasons Greetings by many of the candidates, Republican and Democratic.

Certain of our Republican friends have been particularly anxious to draw our attention to the close personal connections they share with Jesus Christ, their Lord and personal Savior—and the airwaves of Iowa were full of the reminders, at least until 12:01 AM December 26th.

Certain of our Republican friends are also most anxious to remind us that they would not hesitate to apply “enhanced interrogation” techniques to those who, in their minds, deserve this special attention.

Which is how we get to our post-Christmas conversation: do Jesus Christ and the United States Army share similar values regarding torture—and do the Bush Administration and the Republican candidates share a set of opposite values?

And of course, the other question: which group might be right—and why?

So let’s start by reviewing the philosophical positions that the two sides seem to occupy:

The Bush Administration, as is well known, has taken the position that “enhanced interrogation” is a permissible practice. They have also accepted the proposition that “torture” is not permissible under US law.

They are at present unable to define certain methods of interrogation as “torture” or not torture. The Attorney General will be getting back to the President on this question just as soon as he is able, we are told.

Some Members of Congress have suggested these enhanced methods of interrogation are really no more than enhanced swimming lessons.

Some have also advanced the proposition that the President is allowed to offer the final determination regarding the legality of any action taken by the President.

It is further reported that certain tapes which no longer exist prove the efficacy of the certain methods that are not currently considered torture—at least in the minds of those who now offer their recollection of what was on those tapes.

The Republican candidates (with the notable exception of John McCain) have not only embraced the Administration’s positions on these issues, they’ve publicly suggested we build more Guantanamo-like facilities…and even bring in Jack Bauer, if at all possible.

As you might expect, Jesus Christ has a different perspective:

…Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

--Jesus Christ, as recorded in the King James Bible (Matthew 25:40)

What you might not expect is that the United States Army shares the same philosophical real estate as the man Christians recognize as God’s only Son…and followers of Islam recognize as one of God’s Prophets.

5-54. Compliance with laws and regulations, including proper treatment of detainees, is a matter of command responsibility. Commanders have an affirmative duty to ensure their subordinates are not mistreating detainees or their property. HCT leaders must effectively supervise their subordinate collectors during all interrogation operations. Supervisors must ensure that each HUMINT collector has properly completed an interrogation plan and sound collection strategy, and fully understands the intelligence requirements he is seeking to satisfy prior to beginning an interrogation. NCOs and WOs should regularly participate in interrogations with their subordinates to ensure that the highest standards of conduct are maintained. Interrogation supervisors should also monitor interrogations by video, where video monitoring is available…

5-55. Non-DOD agencies may on occasion request permission to conduct interrogations in Army facilities. These requests must be approved by the JTF commander or, if there is no JTF commander, the theater commander or appropriate higher level official. The interrogation activity commander will assign a trained and certified interrogator to escort non-DOD interrogators to observe their interrogation operations. The non-DOD personnel will sign for any detainee they want to question from the MPs, following the same established procedures that DOD personnel must follow. In all instances, interrogations or debriefings conducted by non-DOD agencies will be observed by DOD personnel. In all instances, non-DOD agencies must observe the same standards for the conduct of interrogation operations and treatment of detainees as do Army personnel. All personnel who observe or become aware of violations of Army interrogation operation standards will report the infractions immediately to the commander. The personnel who become aware of mistreatment of detainees will report the infractions immediately and suspend the access of non-DOD personnel to the facility until the matter has been referred to higher headquarters. Non-DOD personnel conducting interrogation operations in an Army facility must sign a statement acknowledging receipt of these rules, and agree to follow them prior to conducting any interrogation operations. Non-DOD personnel working in DOD interrogation facilities have no authority over Army interrogators. Army interrogators (active duty, civilian, or contractor employees) will only use DOD-approved interrogation approaches and techniques.

--Army Field Manual 2-22.3 (FM 34-52) Human Intelligence Collector Operations (Pp. 90-91)

30 retired Generals and Admirals also disagree with the Administration’s position:

In this instance, the relevant rule-the law-has long been clear: Waterboarding detainees amounts to illegal torture in all circumstances. To suggest otherwise-or even to give credence to such a suggestion-represents an affront to the law and to the core values of our nation. (emphasis is from the original source)

--General's Letter to Senator Patrick Leahy, November 2, 2007

The Administration tells us that they have had great success with their “enhanced” methods, but even General Petraeus disagrees with the Administration in that regard:

“Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows they are frequently neither useful nor necessary. Certainly, extreme physical action may make someone “talk;” however, what the individual says may be of questionable value…”

--Letter from General Petraeus to all personnel serving in Multi-National Force, Iraq, May 10, 2007

So now that we know how the two sides feel—what do we do?

The most persuasive arguments I have heard so far from the Administration and its acolytes for the new policies suggest:

--That we will be confronted by the specter of a nuclear bomb, or something similar; and the only way to quickly obtain the information that will save large numbers of Americans is to interrogate the captured terrorist in “enhanced” ways.

--That we allow enhanced interrogation methods to be used upon “terrorist” subjects that are already permitted in the criminal justice system. This argument considers that techniques such as “good cop, bad cop” are intended to be intimidating, which is banned behavior under the Army Field Manual guidelines. The extension of this argument is “if we allow intimidation for purse snatchers, why not for terrorists?”

Adherents of this position do not necessarily support waterboarding as an allowed practice, but might support methods such as sleep deprivation or the application of loud music for extended periods at high volumes.

The Army and Jesus offer their own arguments:

--The first is that there are benefits to occupying the moral high ground. In the case of Jesus, the decision to occupy the moral high ground has led an enormous number of people to follow His teachings—even in times when the Christian churches have not deployed military forces.

The Army feels occupying the high ground protects their own troops who might fall into enemy hands, just for starters.

--There is also a “force multiplier” effect when America rejects torture. Opposition troops who know they will be treated well are far more likely to surrender to US forces than those who know they will be subjected to torture. Less fighting means we have fewer troops exposed to combat, and more American troops live to fight another day—and there are fewer limbs lost in the bargain, as well.

--They also seem to feel that in a counter-insurgency war where the other forces use the news of American atrocities as a recruiting tool the fewer atrocities the better.

--There is also the question of efficiency. The Administration points to the example of the captured terrorist who knows where the bomb is hidden, but professional interrogators point to empathy and assimilation (and even bribery) as far more effective tools.

Part of that has to do with history.

Defectors have been a rich and highly valued source of information for military and civilian agencies for at least the past half-century, and they were an important factor in how we won the Cold War. Defectors are unlikely to be attracted to a nation perceived as willing to torture—and defectors are a gift that keeps on giving, as opposed to the terrorist you torture once and “throw away”.

The same goes for “flipping” insiders. The probability that someone will be willing to remain within an organization we want to penetrate and provide us information for months, or even years, is much higher if we are recognized as the nation that values human rights above all others.

Neither of these considerations factor into the “Jack Bauer” scenario; but the amount of information gained by occupying the higher ground is like a warehouse of treasure, compared to the possibility of obtaining that one truthful answer at the exact moment you need it that torture is alleged to provide.

(By the way, have we pointed out that none of the individuals suspected of having been interrogated in “special” ways is actually supposed to have known anything about any nuclear weapons?)

Part of it has to do with human response to pain.

The application of pain seems to be effective in getting people to give answers, but not necessarily the truth. John McCain tells us he gave the names of the starting lineup for the Green Bay Packers when the North Vietnamese were torturing him for the names of his shipmates.

Imagine breaking down the door after torturing the only person who can tell you where the bomb is, looking for the woman the terrorist swears can tell you all you need to know: Pascale Machaalani.

Imagine your surprise when you find out she’s no terrorist at all; but instead a singer with an album title that translates into English as “The Biggest Lie In My Life” (“Akbar Kidba Bi Hayati”). That she’s not even actually on the North American continent at the moment…and that your terrorist not only resisted your interrogation, but had a focused sense of irony.

The need for efficient intelligence collection is one of the things that have led us, time and time again, to reaffirm America’s commitment to that higher road—and it’s why the military is today trying to keep us on that path.

So that should be enough discussion to generate the kind of Christmas dinner conversation that makes a family gathering even better than it was before…and with that in mind, let’s sum it all up:

--The Administration and most of the Republican Presidential candidates support interrogation techniques that have not been previously authorized, the right of the other Branches to interfere in that decision-making process has been challenged, and the supporters allege that “enhanced interrogation” yields useable, actionable intelligence.

--The United States Army and Jesus Christ support a completely different approach: one in which torture is not only not allowed, but openly discredited for it’s lack of utility and morality…an approach that considers the respect of human dignity and the consideration of human rights as effective tools for developing the morality of those who might follow on a Savior’s path—and an effective tool for intelligence gathering, as well.

In this Christmas season, as snow falls outside, I’m with Jesus and the Army.
How about you?

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