The New Yorker article everyone is citing on the genesis of Administration policies on prisoner treatment – I think that the term ‘torture’ is one that tends to stop thinking – has me continuing to wrestle with the issues involved.
I’ll start with the statement that this isn’t something that will drive my overall view of the war. In total, our treatment of prisoners can be compared favorably to what we did in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, and is worlds ahead of the ways that prisoners are treated by anyone else.
What’s at issue is the way we’re treating a population of partisans – combatants who are technically not entitled to Geneva protections – and who stand somewhere on a continuum between terrorists and troops.
I want here to make a case to my fellow supporters of the war that overly-harsh – and I’m honestly not sure where the exact line is – treatment of really bad, or suspected really bad, people is a really bad idea.
It’s not a really bad idea because they don’t deserve it, or because the inevitable case where something horrible happens to an innocent means we should put down our guns and come home because the whole effort is morally compromised.
It’s a really bad idea because it throws away the most effective weapon we have in dealing with the larger Iraqi and Afghan population, the people we have to win over to win the war. It throws away the clear difference between us and them. But don’t take it from me, take it from John Boyd (in ‘Patterns of Conflict‘)
From Slide 108:
Undermine guerilla cause and destroy their cohesion by demonstrating integrity and competence of government to represent and serve needs of the people – rather than exploit and impoverish them for the benefit of a greedy elite.*
Take political initiative to root out and visibly punish corruption. Select new leaders with recognized competence as well as popular appeal. Ensure that they deliver justice, eliminate grievances and connect government with grass roots.*
Infiltrate guerilla movement as well as employ population for intelligence about guerilla plans, operations, and organization.
Seal-off guerilla regions from outside world by diplomatic, psychological, and various other activities that strip-away potential allies as well as by disrupting or straddling communications that connect these regions with the outside world.
Deploy administrative talent, police, and counter-guerilla teams into affected localities and regions to inhibit guerilla communication, coordination, and movement; minimize guerilla contact with local inhabitants; isolate their ruling cadres; and destroy their infrastructure.
Exploit presence of above teams to build-up local government as well as recruit militia for local and regional security in order to protect people from the persuasion and coercion efforts of guerilla cadres and their fighting units.
Use special teams in a complementary effort to penetrate guerilla controlled regions. Employ (guerillas own) tactics of reconnaissance, infiltration, surprise hit-and-run, and sudden ambush to: keep roving bands off-balance, make base areas untenable, and disrupt communication with the outside world.
Expand these complementary security/penetration efforts into affected region after affected region in order to undermine, collapse, and replace guerilla influence with government influence and control.
Visible link these efforts with local political/economic/social reform in order to connect central government with hopes and needs of people, thereby gain their support and confirm government legitimacy.
Break guerillas’ moral-mental-physical hold over the population, destroy their cohesion, and bring about their collapse via political initiative that demonstrates moral legitimacy and vitality of government and by relentless military operations that emphasize stealth/fast-temp/fluidity-of-action and cohesion of overall effort.
*If you cannot realize such a political program, you might consider changing sides.
(emphasis and footnote his)
Observations Related To Moral Conflict
No fixed recipes for organization, communications, tactics, leadership, etc.
Wide freedom for subordinates to exercise imagination and initiative – yet harmonize within intent of superior commanders.
Heavy reliance upon moral (human values) instead of material superiority as basis for cohesion and ultimate success.
Commanders must create a bond and breadth of experience based upon trust – not mistrust – for cohesion.
I’ll also wag a finger at the antiwar media; their decision to oppose any real moral position supporting the war – not just to make either-or assumptions, but to clearly suggest that there is no moral side in favor – is more damaging than we understand.