By lex, on May 17th, 2007
In a WaPo op-ed today, retired Marine Generals Krulak and Hoar – the former was once Commandant of the Marine Corps while the other led CENTCOM – found something worthwhile in George Tenet’s new book (no mean feat) and in the context of last night’s debate used it to speak out against torture.
Terrible thing, torture – bad at every level. We oughtn’t do it, the generals conclude. And I think on this at least we can all agree. But it had to be said.
Tenet oversaw the secret CIA interrogation program in which torture techniques euphemistically called “waterboarding,” “sensory deprivation,” “sleep deprivation” and “stress positions” — conduct we used to call war crimes — were used…
Tenet acted out of fear the generals say, and frightened people – like anyone who is motivated at the truly primal level – can do awful, unforgivable things. Leaders really ought to know better and the failure here was unconscionable. Although we have to be careful that we get the language just right: When those particular methods were used on Navy flight crews at SERE school, they called it “training” and it was double-plus un-fun.
But Tenet’s kind was far worse, I’m sure. It has everthing to do with intent, or duration or what have you. It’s different, certainly. But nevermind – these stress positions might well be losing us the war, if it isn’t lost already:
The torture methods that Tenet defends have nurtured the recuperative power of the enemy. This war will be won or lost not on the battlefield but in the minds of potential supporters who have not yet thrown in their lot with the enemy. If we forfeit our values by signaling that they are negotiable in situations of grave or imminent danger, we drive those undecideds into the arms of the enemy. This way lies defeat, and we are well down the road to it.
So, add that to the list: Flawed assumptions, post-war reconstruction planning, de-Ba’athification, disbanding the old Iraqi Army, insufficient forces on hand to quash the burgeoning insurgency. Sleep deprivation. Water boarding.
There’s no telling how many hearts and minds we lost to water boarding alone in that part of the world. The thinking mind reels.
This is not just a lesson for history. Right now, White House lawyers are working up new rules that will govern what CIA interrogators can do to prisoners in secret. Those rules will set the standard not only for the CIA but also for what kind of treatment captured American soldiers can expect from their captors, now and in future wars. Before the president once again approves a policy of official cruelty, he should reflect on that.
Simple virtue indeed, well said and it took a kind of courage in this political environment. Bravo.
And I should probably leave it at that, but (and this is nothing at all in the way of criticism at all nor any kind of apology for torture, but just a casual aside) I do wonder which prospective enemy captors the generals are referring to – now or in the future – that will restrict themselves to the limits of that new, secret CIA rule book. Not steering by the wake or anything, but when it comes down to reciprocity I don’t recall the bit about beheading prisoners with kitchen knives for internet feeds in the old version, although perhaps I only got the abridged text.
But all that aside, it’s a very good thing that this op-ed was written by two such impressive and highly decorated officers, men of simple virtue, decades of service and heroic combat experience in multiple conflicts. Had lesser men written it, people – others, not me – might have whispered about wet fingers and the main chance. Such a thing had even been predicted, on these very pages *. But these two are of course immune from even the hint of any such slander – not for them the charge of political ambition.
I mean, they were four star officers.
Update: I just realized this, you’re going to laugh: On those wikipedia pages, under the pictures of the generals? It has a line labelled “allegiance” and next to that was “USMC.” Nothing to do with anything, I just thought that was kind of cute. Like their allegiance was to the Corps. Instead of, you know: To the country.
Update 2: My extended treatment of “torture” for those who missed it when I last went on the record. Also, comment troll Ima Fake is preserved in amber, like. For those who get nostalgic.
* 08-07-2018 Link Gone; no replacements found – Ed.