Sunday, May 21, 2006

Rumsfeld Reveals Split Over Interrogations

Rumsfeld Reveals Split Over Interrogations

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said for the first time Wednesday that officials are at odds over whether a new Army manual should endorse different interrogation techniques for enemy insurgents than are allowed for regular prisoners of war.

The debate hinges on whether suspected terrorists or other insurgents can be treated more severely than captured members of an enemy army. There are concerns such a distinction could fly in the face of a law enacted last year, pressed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that explicitly banned cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners by U.S. troops.

"There is a debate over the difference between a prisoner of war under the Geneva Convention and an unlawful combatant in a situation that is different from the situation envisioned by the Geneva Convention," Rumsfeld told the Senate Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee. "And those issues are being wrestled with at the present time."

Ok, what's to wrestle with? The answer is "no," if it traduces the Geneva Convention or international law.

Not because I'm suggesting "tying the hands of our troops," far from it. Not because I'm opposed to using psycological impact to get what we want; reserving my opinion on what we should want, which is an entirely separate discussion.

Torture, due to it's nature and the requirement for moral compromise on the part of armies and prosecutors, does far more harm than good. It is perhaps arguable that in extraordinary cases a partularly skilled use of torture may be effective - but in large part that is due to the unexpectedness of the technique.

If torture is expected, the potential targets are prepared for it, and it's effectiveness is largely lost, while the toxic side-effects continue unabated.

Rumsfeld is in a position to know the latter, and if he won't tell you, there are any number of people fresh on Civvy Street to tell you.

The Geneva Convention does not exist to protect prisoners of war, so much as it exists to protect future prisoners of war. It is a gentlman's agreement to act respectfully toward one another for reasons of clear self-interest.

In the land of tit-for-tat, it's easy for matters to esculate. Passions run high in battle, and prisoners are often a severe tactical inconvenence. They can even become a severe strain on resources. Then of course there is the strong desire to find out any tactical information the prioner has before it becomes useless.

What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, the paradigm is the same for both sides, regardless of what semantic games are played about the distinctions between irregular forces, insurgencies and terrorists; Prisoners of War versus "enemy combatants," we must remember that people react in broadly predictable ways, and broad experience with those ways led to the Geneva Accords in the first place.

We ignore them at our peril.

The evident lack of respect for the Geneva Conventions has always been a very stout club to use, both in terms of propaganda and in terms of international debates. Terror tactics - and the promise of torture, or even "stressful interrogations" - raises the stakes in any battlefield situation. People who would prefer death to capture can make the price of victory bitter indeed.

If you doubt me, read a few veteran's memoirs of Iwo Jima.

It is foolish in the extreme to encourage a perspective that is already well-entrenched in the culture.

No, the proper treatment of prisoners of war - which is what everone in Gitmo and all other "in country" and extraterratorial prisons are, de-facto, is to do something surprising and counter-intuitive.

When people are prepared for stress, they are not prepared to be treated respetfully. Nor are they expected to be used as examples of and witesses to a superior ethical system.

Our Dear Leader and his Glee Club make a big fat hairy deal about how this is a Clash of Cultures. Well then. Let us look at the logical implications of that.

Cultures are composed of people with shared values. And as a matter of historical and inarguable fact, a superior culture will defeat and transform an inferior one.

Take, for instance, the history of China.

Take, for instance, the history of India.

Take, for instance, the history of Greece and Rome.

Take, for instance, the histry of the Danes and the Celts, the Angles and the Saxons.

If you read those histories you will find that within one generation, perhaps two, it becomes irrelevant as to which side had the best warriers and the most successful generals.

It's the culture that works best for ordinary people, the one that pays closest attention to the everyday value of people and practical necessities. In a word, the one that concentrates on the here and now and leaves the fussing over things like Clashes of Culture and Eschatology to those content to sit in the moral eqivalant of dank and dusty caves, exploring personal rightiousness as a competitive sport.

It is again a fact of history, again, that cultures dominated by religiosity drive away those who would otherwise move the culture forward. Consider the effect of the religious wars of Europe on those countries who engaged actively, as opposed to those who considered them to be a fact of life in the field of international affairs, to be avoided at a profit.

Of course, open warfare is hardly the best arena for cultural warfare. But it's probably the only one where men (and a few testosterone-poisoned women) with no patience for complex issues and nuanced responses feel any assurance of personal achievement.

But in the end, the trick has always been to win the peace. The war is always the easy part. If you doubt this - consider how many Mongols you see in positions of power within China, compared to ethnic Han.

Or consider the values and philosophy of Greece - taken home in triumph to barbarian Rome.

How many truly Roman values do we teach our children in the better schools?

But Greek names, Aristotle, Archemedes, Pythagorous and many more - continue in large part to influence western civilization.

So who won?

Who should have won?

Who WILL win?

I think we define this as a Clash of Cultures at our peril, for the subculture that is calling for the clash has little if any evident value to a lasting civilization.

Such civilizations require a little more reward for their valued citizens than "pie in the sky by and by."

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