29 September 2005

Plausible Deniability

Two items from yesterday (both via Secrecy News) explain just how those at the top of our government have maintained plausible deniability of torture, ensuring that American soldiers will carry out their wishes to commit war crimes while distancing themselves enough to hang those soldiers out to dry. First is a powerful (but I believe ultimately futile) letter to John McCain from Captain Ian Fishback of the 82nd Airborne Division:
While I served in the Global War on Terror, the actions and statements of my leadership led me to believe that United States policy did not require application of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan or Iraq. On 7 May 2004, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's testimony that the United States followed the Geneva Conventions in Iraq and the "spirit" of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan prompted me to begin an approach for clarification. For 17 months, I tried to determine what specific standards governed the treatment of detainees by consulting my chain of command through battalion commander, multiple JAG lawyers, multiple Democrat and Republican Congressmen and their aides, the Ft. Bragg Inspector General's office, multiple government reports, the Secretary of the Army and multiple general officers, a professional interrogator at Guantanamo Bay, the deputy head of the department at West Point responsible for teaching Just War Theory and Law of Land Warfare, and numerous peers who I regard as honorable and intelligent men.

Instead of resolving my concerns, the approach for clarification process leaves me deeply troubled. Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

This is a tragedy. I can remember, as a cadet at West Point, resolving to ensure that my men would never commit a dishonorable act; that I would protect them from that type of burden. It absolutely breaks my heart that I have failed some of them in this regard.
So they let the troops know what was desired (wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more) but would never actually come out and say it, and sure as hell weren't going to make the mistake of putting such orders in writing. Captain Fishback has a few choice words for sadistic monsters who use the NABA excuse:
Some argue that since our actions are not as horrifying as Al Qaeda's, we should not be concerned. When did Al Qaeda become any type of standard by which we measure the morality of the United States? We are America, and our actions should be held to a higher standard, the ideals expressed in documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Others argue that clear standards will limit the President's ability to wage the War on Terror. Since clear standards only limit interrogation techniques, it is reasonable for me to assume that supporters of this argument desire to use coercion to acquire information from detainees. This is morally inconsistent with the Constitution and justice in war. It is unacceptable.

Both of these arguments stem from the larger question, the most important question that this generation will answer. Do we sacrifice our ideals in order to preserve security? Terrorism inspires fear and suppresses ideals like freedom and individual rights. Overcoming the fear posed by terrorist threats is a tremendous test of our courage. Will we confront danger and adversity in order to preserve our ideals, or will our courage and commitment to individual rights wither at the prospect of sacrifice? My response is simple. If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession. I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is "America."
Second is FMI 3-63.6 which is supposedly a clarification of Army doctrine (and, to be fair, it does at least say that from now on those in charge are responsible), but reads more like an excuse for why nobody up top could be held accountable before (warning: PDF):
Several of the investigations into detainee operations in Iraq identified a lack of clear command and control of detainee operations. Overall responsibility for detainee operations (both detention and interrogation of detainees) never came together under one person, short of the joint force commander himself, until assignment of MG Miller in April 2004. Additionally, roles and responsibilities of those involved in detainee operations were not clearly defined, and the command and control of, and relationship between, elements conducting detainee operations at a given echelon or location were not unmistakably established.
The updated Field Manual looks promising at first, but careful reading is required. When scrutinized, much of it falls apart. For instance, in fn. 1, it states:
Within this document, the terms "humanely treating" and "humane treatment" include compliance with all applicable
aspects of the Geneva Conventions.
The document goes on to stipulate that detainees are to be treated humanely. Good, right? Sadly, if you read to the end, under the glossary definition of "detainee operations" you will find that the first footnote is effectively inoperative (emphasis added):
operations that keep selected individuals in custody to control their activity and possibly to gain intelligence. Detainee operations extend from the point of capture to the time of release from military control. These operations ensure humane treatment, protection, custody, evacuation, administration, and interrogation of detainees is in accordance with international law and US policy. (This is an interim definition. When revised, FM 3-19.40 will establish the Army definition.)
How much do you want to bet the revised definition will ignore the Geneva Conventions as "quaint"?

I really wish those in charge would listen to Captain Fishback, but seeing as we have a sadist for president and that John McCain only cares about image, I doubt anything will change.



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