The mindless jackals of the Democratic Party* continued their assault on the United States of America yesterday, by attempting to discredit the distinctive qualifications of Alberto Gonzales to be Attorney General. This is not surprising, given the absolute slander delivered against John Ashcroft over the past four years, but it speaks to the peculiar and destructive belief that a political victory is more vital than the nation or honorable men in its service.
(I stop here to address the '*' I noted above. The Republican Party has its own jackals, politics being the sort of soul-killing machine it is, and I want to make clear that there remain honest and honorable public servants in Congress on both sides of the aisle. This article addresses the seditious words and actions of America's enemies, who think nothing of betraying the nation and her citizens for a chance to score demguagic points.)
The present canard was the cheap and false attempt to link Gonzales to support for torture as an interrogation tactic. As Gonzales made clear in his statements yesterday to the Senate, he has a clear demand for the conduct of U.S. forces who hold people, whether in prisons, detention, camps, or some other situation. The claims made against him come from a deliberate misrepresentation of both his opinions and of the men who have been claimed as victims of torture.
Perhaps the clearest method by which the distinction may be made, is to examine what happened at Abu Ghraib. Eight U.S. soldiers were arrested and charged under the UCMJ for their actions, which were described in their courts-martial as four basic types of offenses:
Conspiracy - to maltreat detainees, and to deceive investigators, and to coerce witnesses to conceal knowledge and evidence of a crime
Sexual Misconduct - by having sex with other guards in direct violation of orders, by stripping detainees and posing them nude, and by mocking detainees with graphic acts (such as photographing a nude detainee while hooded and with wires simulating electronic torture
Omission - Ignoring their duty to protect detainees from abuse and cruelty
Physical Assault - Striking and kicking detainees with hands and feet, and using dogs to threaten attack
In comparison, here are actions known to have been taken by the Baath regime at the Abu Ghraib prison (additional sources here and here):
* Regular beatings in order to break resistance
* Random executions to create and maintain terror
* Limbs amputated, beginning with fingers and continuing to arms and legs
* Tongues cut out, ears cut off
* Family members raped in front of prisoners
* Murder of children in front of prisoners
* Murder of fetus by cutting the mother's womb open, again in front of prisoners
* Prisoners' legs and ribs broken through prolonged whipping
* Prisoners thrown from roofs
There is no comparison. None whatsoever.
This is not to say that the actions taken by this few U.S. soldiers represents acceptable behavior. Bear in mind, not only that these soldiers were arrested and tried for their actions, but also that their attempts to conceal and deny thei actions shows that they knew their actions were opposed to the training and expectations of the U.S. military. Any claim to compare U.S. policy to support for Torture is therefore either ignorance, or a deliberate lie.
With that said, however, the question comes up, when is physical violence or threats against detainees acceptable, and how far is too far?
It has been said, with validity, that armies will always have a few who go too far, and wherever the line is drawn, there will be some who exceed it. But the U.S. Military actually has a pretty good humanitarian record for the past century; the horrible crimes of My Lai and the like turn out to be remote exceptions when the evidence is considered. But at the same time, the question demands to be answered; how far can we go, without becoming what we fight?
In World War 2, the United States was unquestionably fighting against some of the worst evils of that century, personified by Tojo and Hitler. But the controversy remains today, about the use of atomic bombs on Japan, or of fire-bombing cities in Germany. Those, of course, were acts of war, and to some degree may be excused by the information available. Yet, that's the same issue facing Lt. Colonel Allen West, who faced court-martial for firing his pistol near the head of an Iraqi prisoner, in order to get information which saved the lives of many U.S. soldiers. Was the threat of death appropriate in order to save American lives? In the case of Col. West, he decided it was. What's more, the fact that Al Qaeda trains their recruits to believe that Americans are soft and squeamish (no doubt because of speeches by the likes of Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pulosi), would enhance the effect of discovering the U.S. was quite willing to play rough. In practical terms, a certain relaxing of rules against physical force would unquestionably improve our interrogation results.
The next question is the legal one. Americans often forget that the world is not the United States. That is, the law is different in different places, and so are rights. There are, to be specific, different rights for different people.
Why? It comes down to Sovereignty. An American tourist in Jordan or Singapore may enjoy the exotic cultures and cuisines, but he must also understand the laws of each country and their enforcement. Larry Flynt would not do well in Singapore, nor would Keith Richards enjoy Jordan's conduct expectations. And citizenship is far more than a formality in the eyes of the law. To a U.S. soldier, an American citizen owns specific and undeniable rights, which cannot be abridged by a military force. A resident within the territory of the United States would have a lower level of rights, but would still enjoy the standard practices of U.S. domestic law enforcement. A captured soldier in unifiorm of a known country and formal government would still enjoy some protection as a Prisoner of War, per the Geneva accords. But an armed foreign insurgent who attacks civilians has no rights, of any kind. The decision which allows the insurgent to hide his identity and deny connection to a sponsor state, also strips away any pretense of legal defense when he is caught. This is not say 'anything goes'; all military units are compelled to operate under the Rules of Engagement set ahead of time for them, and there are clear Military Justice ordinances regarding the treatment of any captured person. But in legal terms, the eight soldiers tried for the Abu Ghraib offenses were arrested and tried for offenses against the U.S. Government, not for violating any prisoner's rights.
Up to here, the matter must seem very cold-blooded, as if I were saying 'Ha! You are my prisoner, and I may do as I like'. This is absolutely not the case. But it was necessary to establish first the clear distinction between torture as it is acted out, and the nature of the actual offenses. It was then necessary to draw clear understanding of the fact that war is not courteous or kind, and such tactics must be set aside to accomplish necessary, even vital, goals. And it was also appropriate to remind the reader, that the terrorists' decision to act apart from a government, and to attack civilians, not to mention the brutality of terrorist actions taken against their victims, removed any pretense to a claim of civil rights for the men so captured. The matter becomes exclusively a question of the U.S. accepted level of responsibility.
Going back to the practical matter, it works to the advantage of the United States to maintain a balance between strength and mercy. Rebuilding roads and cities, protecting children with medicine and police, and showing a sincere desire for Iraqi self-rule through their own elections, all work to the good. It also helps, however, to make clear that the United States will crush any terrorist found, that insurgents will not find a timid defender. But for the sake of our soldiers' morality and confidence, it is also absolutely necessary that standards of conduct be clear and consistent. As I noted earlier, the My Lai massacre was a remote exception to U.S. conduct, and the overwhelming majority of Vietnam Veterans have every right to be proud of their service and conduct. John Kerry was simply lying when he claimed to see widespread atrocities in 1971, and the vets know this. The same condition exists in Iraq and Afghanistan and Guantanamo, where the U.S. is careful not to mistreat detainees, but has no intention of forgetting who they are, and what they have done. What is necessary in this matter, is to review the policies and actions of the United States, to set a clear line between what is right and acceptable for U.S. military, and what is unacceptable. And that brings us back to that Jan 25, 2002 memo prepared by Alberto Gonzales. When he prepared that memo, what he was doing was looking at that line, in moral and legal terms, and explaining where the boundaries are. That is exactly what we need in an Attorney General, especially right now.