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December 15, 2005

Stealing McCain's Thunder

James Joyner, at Outside The Beltway has posted on the new, classified policies for interrogation being set up by the U.S. Army, which the New York Times speculates will anger U.S. Senator John McCain(R, Arizona) as he is presently negotiating with the White House and the House of Representatives on a set of guidelines to prevent cruel treatment of prisoners taken in the Global War On Terror(GWOT).

Joyner writes,

Not having seen the rules, I have no view on whether they go "too far." I would note, however, that by definition having precise legislative guidelines means there is a line between legal and illegal conduct. So, if going "right to the edge" is a problem, that line needs to be redrawn.

Further, the Army, like any government agency, will naturally issue regulations for their employees giving them precise guidelines to stay within compliance with the law. While doing so may have the effect of giving them encouragement to go right up to the limits of the law, that is not necessarily the intent. Indeed, from the little information provided by the article, it would seem the opposite is true:

From the Times: One Army officer expressed exasperation that senior military and civilian officials were failing to articulate a coherent approach toward interrogation, saying much of the confusion centered on disparate definitions of abuse. "Everybody's talking past each other on this," the officer said. " 'Cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment' is at the crux of the problem, but we've never defined that."

The new manual, the first revision in 13 years, will specifically prohibit practices like stripping prisoners, keeping them in stressful positions for a long time, imposing dietary restrictions, employing police dogs to intimidate prisoners and using sleep deprivation as a tool to get them to talk, Army officials said. In that regard, it imposes new restrictions on what interrogators are allowed to do. Those practices were not included in the manual in use when most of the abuses occurred at Abu Ghraib in Iraq in the fall of 2003, but neither were they specifically banned.

I'm not all that sure a fixed set of interrogation guidelines is what is needed here, at least not one that is uniform for all prisoners.

If, say, our(or the Iraqi) forces capture a terrorist from al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, one who has been involved in the bombing murders of children and the beheading of innocent abductees, and it is believed that the man possesses information that can be valuable toward saving the lives of soft targets or coalition troops or further damaging the terrorist infrastructure, I see absolutely no reason to accord that animal any rights whatsoever when it comes to extracting information from him. I'm all for doing whatever it takes to wrest the intelligence from him, and I could care less what becomes of him afterwards. This is war, not a game of patty cakes, and you can be damn sure that if the roles were reversed, he would do the same to you, and probably laugh in your face in the process. These are not human beings as we know human beings, they are rabid murderers who kill for the sake of killing and use religion as their justification.

Making nice and making it law that we make nice will only embolden them further. It has been proven time and time again that whenever we show mercy to Islamofascist terrorists, they perceive it as weakness and as a victory for themselves, and their attacks increase both in volume and viciousness.

By upstaging the senator's efforts with their own set of rules that might be deemed legally acceptable (if possibly slightly more harsh than Mr. McCain's own suggestions are likely to be), I believe the Army is, in effect, doing the right thing, especially in keeping their proposed interrogation methods a secret to prevent the enemy from being able to devise ways to resist them. The people do not have a "right to know." Terrorists watch CNN, too.

I am not, by nature, a vicious person, but I believe that certain circumstances, particularly those dealing with the defense of the innocent and of country against an enemy such as the one we face in the GWOT, require realism-based responses.

Posted by Seth at December 15, 2005 05:06 AM


Seth: I'm largely convinced that torture is bad public policy for a variety of reasons. Regardless, though, soldiers have a duty to act within the law. My argument is simply that Congress has the power to set basic guidelines and agencies who carry out policies, like the Army, have to spell out the details. Soldiers have to know what the boundaries are or otherwise they face criminal sanction for doing their job.

Posted by: James Joyner at December 17, 2005 07:51 AM

James --

My actual viewpoint(I defined it more clearly, I think, in a later post re Bush accepting McCain's proposal) is that while it is within the purview of Congress to determine guidelines for the treatment of prisoners, these rules should not be "blanket" rules.

We are facing two separate entities in Iraq, the first being Iraqis(Sunnis) who are fighting to restore their country to its former state in which they were a ruling minority, and so-called "foreign fighters" such as al-Qaeda who are not Iraqis and are merely in the country to represent their own interests, ie turning the country into a virtual Robber's Roost for global terrorists. They see what is occurring as an opportunity to foment chaos through terrorism and use this to achieve their own goals.

The latter are operating far outside of any kind of law, and as they've demonstrated in the past, are quite good at using any kind of moral high ground we proffer to their advantage.

A good comparison, I suppose, would be someone of fair demeanor and Marquis of Queensbury indoctrination being confronted by a bully who is a hardened, ruthless street fighter who will do anything to win a fight he himself has forced upon another, regardless of any permanent injury or worse a victim might sustain.

There is a two by four laying nearby, and using it to defend himself might be the only way the intended victim can escape serious harm. However, he believes that doing so would be unfair, perhaps even cruel. Does he make the injurious self-sacrifice to satisfy his own morality, or does he pick up the two by four and save himself profound harm?

I maintain that because of the "foreign fighters'" status, to say nothing of the atrocities they commit, they are far outside the realm of any laws, or even sanity for that matter, and that if subjecting them to the same cruelty to which they joyfully subject others will prevent any further atrocities against children and other innocents, our own troops and our allies it should be considered permissable.

I don't condone torture for the sake of torture or as a punishment, nor do I condone any kind of prisoner abuse, but I believe there are those out there who have shown themselves to be beyond any considerations we should and must show the vast majority of those we capture.

The problem with writing things into law is that they group the worst of the evil with the least offensive, and I don't see this as a black and white issue -- there is a lot of grey involved.

Posted by: Seth at December 17, 2005 10:21 AM