John Boyd And Torture

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:

Action:

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.

Idea:

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)

(slide 118):

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.

18 thoughts on “John Boyd And Torture”

  1. Timely post AL.

    I’d argue that it’s also a really bad idea to hang on to tons of prisoners even though you now know that they are not really “enemy combatants”.

    But after all this time do you dare release them?

    Sadly more of a logistics issue I suppose.

  2. Note that swift military trials as illegal combatants for terrorists captured on the battlefield, and executing them in full compliance with the laws of war, is perfectly congruent with Boyd’s recommendations – and may in fact be necessary in order to achieve some of them.

  3. I agree with Joe in this regard. But note the Cartoon Jihad has Afghanis agitating for Al Qaeda and now.

    The gulf between Muslim and non-Muslim is simply too vast for any sort of moral legitimacy that Boyd talks about to take place.

    Cartoon Jihad and “Freedom Go to Hell” or “God Bless Hitler” signs, Afghanis saying they will join Al Qaeda and “demanding” those publishing the cartoons be “punished” suggests their morality and legitimacy and ours can never be reconciled.

    Therefore it’s better IMHO to use massive amounts of effective force to make Muslims afraid of us. The Mongol solution. The Mongols offered a very light rule: peoples who submitted, paid tribute and respected Mongol envoys and trade were left to their own affairs. Those who did not were utterly destroyed. It’s amazing how utterly and completely the Mongols defeated the Muslim empires, including the supposedly invincible Afghanis in their mountain redoubts.

    I’m not sure Boyd’s experience translates well from Air War to ground war. Fighter pilots are individualists (though the OODA Loop concept is probably applicable beyond just individual fights).

  4. Great post, AL. I’ve been wondering when someone was going to bust out Boyd’s “moral dimension” of warfare.

    JR, Boyd spent years studying Clausewitz, Musashi, Sun Tzu, and tens of other military theorists. Believe me, the O-O-D-A Loop is applicable to just about anything if you understand and apply it properly.

    In fact, I’ll let Sun Tzu have the last word:

    “The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.”

  5. We are run smack into a divergence in Arab and modern European sensibilities. To the Middle Easterners, it is perfectly reasonable to execute enemy combatants (lawful or not) but holding them and questioning them easily skirts on their obsession with pride and humiliation. To the Europeans, prison is barely tolerable for even the worst offenders (if loud music and dousing with water is clear cut torture, what do you call locking somebody in a concrete box for an indeterminate length of time?) and execution is out of the question. Not taking prisoners solves the dilemna but happens to tred on both our own moral aversion to not taking quarter and the pragmatic benefit of intelligence prisoners bring to the table. The bottom line is we arent likely to make anybody happy.

  6. Jim,

    I have one quick remark. If a foreigner without a lot of knowledge of America had been watching TV news in America in the runup to the Iraq invasion, the news media would have created the impression that the vast majority of Americans were unhinged communists and Ba’athist sympathizers. If one had remarked that the Ba’athists and Communists at the anti-war rallies were not representative of America as a whole, you could have easily countered by noting that the counter-rallies (often by college Republicans and related groups) were relatively small-scale affairs in comparison.

    The end result of observing such demonstrations would have been to conclude that America was hopelessly subject to Ba’athists and Communits because if there were more people who really opposed them, then it would be apparent.

  7. Bush’s War on Iraq was started no differently than any other illegitimate war of aggression has ever been started: on lies.

    The War on Iraq will end in defeat for America. There is no other possible outcome. I do not like that, but then I did not support the War on Iraq from the start. It was clearly illegal as well as morally wrong. My only hope is that Americans learns a lesson from this defeat. I would bet money however that most Americans becomes even more belligerant instead.

    Torture? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Who is going to stop them from torturing ‘enemies’ once all the good people are purged from government?

  8. I actually agree with a good deal of what AL quotes here – although I’ll note that the fact that the Bush administration hasn’t gotten this idea into their heads _3 years in to the campaign_, that it shows no signs of doing so, and that even now the pro-war side has to have arguments with itself over the “hearts and minds” strategy _is_ an excellent reason to change one’s view of the war. I’m not trying to convince anyone here that John Kerry was/is a better choice, but there comes a time at which you have to question if a badly fought Iraq war is worse than no Iraq war at all.

    That said, some comments:

    bq. 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.

    Do we really have to review the idea that not calling something torture doesn’t make it any less so?

    bq. 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.

    Well, if you’ve been reading the rest of Kevin’s blog, you know that there’s good reason to suspect that a lot of these guys _don’t_ deserve it, and that _is_ a problem. (Although, yes, if this issue is examined in isolation, the right thing to do is to correct the mistakes, not give up the fight entirely.)

    bq. 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.

    Er.. this pretty much came out of right field. Got any specific arguments and/or evidence to back this up (as in, something to erase from my mind the endless hours of talk about Saddam gassing his own people from early 2003), or is this just a way of trying to convince yourself that the other side just has to be worse, no matter what Bush does?

  9. “Got any specific arguments and/or evidence to back this up”

    I dont think this specifically was a pro/anti Bush or war issue, but we do know for a fact CNN was white-washing its Iraq coverage to maintain its office in Baghdad. That is so egregious I dont really care why they did it, although its fairly easy to assume it was just the pass of least resistance, which bias-notwithstanding is the de facto route the MSM will take 95% of the time.

  10. Er.. this pretty much came out of right field.

    That’s because it’s an inane parting cheap shot and is fairly baseless unless AL is refering to World Socialist Daily.

    But ya can’t dis the current administration without the obligatory parting shot at a boogy man unless of course you refer to the opposition as “ostensibly my party” at some point in the post which AL failed to do.

    Get with the program already.

  11. CNN was white-washing its Iraq coverage

    I’d say white-washing is a ludicrous description of what actually occurred. That doesn’t make it right, though I think there are points to be made in support of their decision.

  12. “I’d say white-washing is a ludicrous description of what actually occurred. That doesn’t make it right, though I think there are points to be made in support of their decision.”

    How would you describe it? Considering that we are talking about intentionally burying reports of systematic human rights abuses including torture and murder, calling it white washing is doing it a kindness.

  13. I’m really getting tired of debating the how-,who-,when-, why- of the pre-Iraq war. But as for the current war strategy…

    I do feel that Bush’s dedication to Iraqi democracy is just a talking point. It sounds great, but as long as we can arrest civilians without trial democracy will not exist. period.

    It’s nice to say “our enemies do this…” or “our enemies do that…”; but we all know that our enemies do not care about forming a democracy. We do, and that requires higher standards.

    I realize that several things in Iraq currently prevent fair trials, but the intention towards fair justice must exist in the eyes of the Iraqi’s; or else they’ll give up on us. We cannot be succesful without them.

  14. Alchemist, as there has always been a constutional provision in the US constitution permitting arrests of civilians without trial, are you saying that we’ve never had democracy? Methinks the hyperbole excessive.

  15. Im just not sure what more Bush can do to prove his support for democracy in Iraq short of applying for citizenship. Every hoop that has been put in front of him he jumps through, yet regardless he is accused of disaster for it. Turn over sovereignty? Oh, its a puppet American government. Have elections, Oh the Sunni werent included. Approve a constituion, oh… well, yeh, but er something bad. Another election… Hey these guys arent American puppets what are you thinking?! At this point its just absurd. Who you going to believe, George Galloway or your lyin eyes? Even if you think Bush just keeps putting on a good show even though he doesnt mean it, at some point reality counts whatever you think his true neferious intention may be. Right?

  16. SPQR: good question. I do think it’s slightly different when it’s your own population vs. in another country. That is part of *our* constitution, and we’ve agreed to that over time.

    It is not, however, part of *their* constition. So military law should be used. The act of labeling everyone rounded up as ‘not viable under the geneva convention’ prevents seperation of those who are innocent from those who are guilty. It also gives the Iraqis a bad sense of american justice.

    to Mark: maybe it’s unfair to say that he doesn’t care about Iraqi democracy (I’m sure he does), more that he doesn’t care about non-American democracy in general. The followingthings give me this impression:
    1)extradition from foreign countries to be tortured without trial
    2)Imprisoning those captured in war indefinately w/out trial
    3)Invading Iraq without a plan to prevent rioting and looting

    BTW: I didn’t care about the constitution much, and figure it will be a long, long time before one is finished, even without an insurgency

  17. Mark, I like to ask sneerers just what more the Iraqis have to do to prove they do want a democracy. They’ve had huge turnouts for 3 elections in one year, risking death from IEDs and snipers. They’ve continued to try to form a coalition government and resist civil war. They eagerly sign up to be police and soldiers, in spite of IEDs which target recruiting stations . . . .

    Meanwhile the antiwar movement intones the mantra “You can’t shove democracy down people’s throats . . . .” What a straw man.

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