Since the senate intelligence committee decided to release its report today (12/09/2014) of CIA enhanced interrogations during the Iraq war , I will take the occasion to resurrect and revise a column I wrote a few years ago when President Obama was hot to investigate the matter. The report needs a contrarian view.
Let me begin with some disclosure. I am retired military: four years active duty Air Force, six years U.S. Navy Reserve and 10 years Army National Guard Combat Engineers. I respect the position of thoughtful people who declare themselves conscientious objectors. However, I also respect those who are thoughtful participants in the military
I understand Mark Twain’s sentiments expressed in his “War Prayer,” (It’s on the internet and worth the read.) and for this reason, I don’t pray about the outcome of war. If God is going to protect combatants on my side, it usually means some mother or father somewhere else is going to have to suffer.
Because of the destructive nature of war, it should not be entered into lightly. However, when our leaders do decide an issue is serious enough to go to war over, they have also decided that our end goal is of such magnitude that it is worth killing and maiming human beings over and that doing so is presumably ethical. And remember, the vote to go to war in Iraq was overwhelmingly in favor of doing so.
This is pretty serious stuff. Once we have decided the issue is serious enough to kill and maim for, by what logic do we then deduce it is unethical to make life miserable for a prisoner of war (POW) for a brief period, as some would have us believe. When the POW was on the battlefield, it was ethical to kill or maim him, but when he is in captivity, we are suppose to believe it is not.
From all that I have read, our interrogators didn’t even come close to seriously maiming or killing the POW’s they questioned. They might have made their lives miserable for a time or instilled fear in them momentarily, but that is no more than the POW would have experienced if he had still been on the battlefield. And remember, our decision to go to war was a decision that killing and maiming was ethical in order to meet our aims.
We should use any means necessary short of killing or maiming a POW to get information that will help end a war as soon as possible. The immoral thing would be to let the war linger on at the expense of more deaths and more misery because we didn’t want to torture a prisoner.
I feel the same way about the rules of warfare. Rules of warfare simply dress a very barbaric act in a cloak of civility. This is war, not a football game, but rules help us feel right about ourselves when we really ought to feel badly for being pressured into doing this dastardly thing called war. If we felt badly enough, we would do whatever it takes to get it over with. This idea of limited warfare born out of the Korean Conflict has succeeded only in insuring that conflicts will linger on for years. This was true in Viet Nam, and the Iraq war came about because of the limited war policy followed in the Persian Gulf War.
You could argue, as those who oppose torture do, that information obtained through torture is not reliable. I’m sure this is often true, but I’m just as sure that the argument is often wrong. You could argue that our enemies are even more ruthless with their POW’s, and at times I’m sure that is true. But both arguments miss the point: if we have POW’s it means we are at war and have already decided our end game is important enough to justify killing and maiming humans to achieve, and the sooner we get it done, whatever it takes, the quicker we will be out this moral morass.
I think the whole purpose of the Democratic led Senate Intelligence Committee releasing this report today was purely political. It will have some value as political grandstanding and salve a few bleeding hearts, but it will do nothing for the security and freedom of our country.