Thomas Friedman: A Torturous Compromise

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Weighing everything, President Obama got it about as right as one could when he decided to ban the use of torture, to release the Bush torture memos for public scrutiny and to not prosecute the lawyers and interrogators who implemented the policy. But there is nothing for us to be happy about in any of this.

After all, we’re not just talking about “enhanced interrogations.” Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, has testified to Congress that more than 100 detainees died in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, with up to 27 of those declared homicides by the military. They were allegedly kicked to death, shot, suffocated or drowned. Look, our people killed detainees, and only a handful of those deaths have resulted in any punishment of U.S. officials.

The president’s decision to expose but not prosecute those responsible for this policy is surely unsatisfying; some of this abuse involved sheer brutality that had nothing to do with clear and present dangers. Then why justify the Obama compromise? Two reasons: the first is that because justice taken to its logical end here would likely require bringing George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and other senior officials to trial, which would rip our country apart; and the other is that Al Qaeda truly was a unique enemy, and the post-9/11 era a deeply confounding war in a variety of ways.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchLaw & Legal Issues* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in GeneralOffice of the PresidentPresident George BushPresident Barack ObamaTerrorism

9 Comments
Posted April 29, 2009 at 9:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. William P. Sulik wrote:

It needs to be clearly stated that the United States Military is strongly and firmly opposed to torture.  See Part 7-8 of the Counter-Insurgency Manual (which is online), FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5.  This passage, in particular is highlighted:

Lose Moral Legitimacy, Lose the War

During the Algerian war of independence between 1954 and 1962, French leaders decided to permit torture against suspected insurgents. Though they were aware that it was against the law and morality of war, they argued that—

• This was a new form of war and these rules did not apply.
• The threat the enemy represented, communism, was a great evil that justified extraordinary means.
• The application of torture against insurgents was measured and nongratuitous.

This official condoning of torture on the part of French Army leadership had several negative consequences. It empowered the moral legitimacy of the opposition, undermined the French moral legitimacy, and caused internal fragmentation among serving officers that led to an unsuccessful coup attempt in 1962. In the end, failure to comply with moral and legal restrictions against torture severely undermined French efforts and contributed to their loss despite several significant military victories.

Illegal and immoral activities made the counterinsurgents extremely vulnerable to enemy propaganda inside Algeria among the Muslim population, as well as in the United Nations and the French media. These actions also degraded the ethical climate throughout the French Army. France eventually recognized Algerian independence in July 1963.

The entire COIN manual has been placed into the public domain by the military and may be downloaded here (in pdf format):

http://www.fas.org/irp/doddir/army/fm3-24.pdf

April 29, 9:30 am | [comment link]
2. Dave B wrote:

The extremes (kicking to death, drowning, shot to death suffocating etc)  noted in the editorial WERE NEVER APPROVED OR AUTHORIZED.  Bush realized that standard interrogation techniques would not work and wanted a clear line or boundry drawn to be harsh but not to harsh..  He presented his line to both the House and Senate intelligence committees and NOBODY OBJECTED.  The really dirty work was done in foreign countries and the prisoners were sent there by rendition (a policy still allowed and approved of by Obama).  Obama is simply seeking politcal hay out of this and it is disgusting.  If they want to try the Bush people the people that sat in on those meetings (Republican and Democrat) should also be tried!!

April 29, 9:49 am | [comment link]
3. Dave B wrote:

There have been extremes in every war.  In World War two there was a chap from Texas who was regularly put in charge of evacuating Japanese prisoners to the rear, none ever made it because the Japanese always tried to escape.  In Viet Nam water boarding was common in the field but only one individual was ever tried.  I am not approving of this but brutality does occur dispite the best efforts of the military, to link this to Bush’s policies is disingenous.

April 29, 9:56 am | [comment link]
4. Jeff Thimsen wrote:

“So, yes, people among us who went over the line may go unpunished, because we still have enemies who respect no lines at all. In such an ugly war, you do your best. That’s what President Obama did.”

I would argue that that was Bush did as well. The Bush policies were not hammered out in some dungeon, under Dick Cheney’s castle in Transylvania, but were developed in consultation with Congressional leaders of both parties. Mistakes were made, but they were made under great pressure, and with the goal of defending the nation in mind. Let’s not criminalize policy differences.

April 29, 2:07 pm | [comment link]
5. Dave B wrote:

Jeff I agree.  I would argue that Bush tried to prevent abuse of prisoners and keep the country safe.  For many reasons rendition may not have been a good plan and our treatment may have been more humane!

April 29, 2:45 pm | [comment link]
6. nwlayman wrote:

From a very interesting transcript of Gen Patton questioning an SS German general in 1944:
“Patton: I understand German very well, but I will not demean myself by speaking such a language. I think before I turn the Gen­eral over to the French, I will send him to the Army Group who may question him or have some special investigators question him, and they can do things I can’t do.”
—- It’s nothing new to do things that are extraordinary in extraordinary times. 
Here’s William Donovan talking about WW II also:
“We face an enemy who believes one of his chief weapons is that none but he will employ terror. But we will turn terror against him - or we will cease to exist…...
On the one hand we must freely use stratagem and on the other, we must be frugal in civilized scruple. We are in a nasty business, facing a nastier enemy.”

So we know more about what *happens* when we are frugal in civilized scruple.  We are also pretty ignorant about how many times that frugality has saved our hides then and now.  I can’t find the quote but think it was also Donovan who said that in WW II he had broken laws of man and God and would do it again if he had to.  It’s real ugly.

April 29, 5:02 pm | [comment link]
7. Dilbertnomore wrote:

#6 has it right. We didn’t ask for this terrorist aggression, but we have it to deal with nonetheless. What we have done is we have allowed ourselves to become vastly overexercised in our consideration of what constitutes ‘torture.’ If the interrogation act produces no lasting physical or mental harm it isn’t torture. None of the actions we have taken fit the definition. We are a good and just nation and we have and will continue to act accordingly. It is most unseemly that unscrupulous politicians (oxymoron?) see fit to sensationalize the honest efforts of men acting in the defense of all of us, men far better than they can ever hope to be, for crass political (oxymoron?) gain.

April 29, 7:14 pm | [comment link]
8. Juandeveras wrote:

Friedman conveniently omits a request for D’Ohbama to releasse all of the memos - including the redactions which details the positive results.

April 30, 2:00 am | [comment link]
9. Dave B wrote:

#8 It is interesting that President Obama ducked the question of the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation during the love fest that now passes for news conferences.

April 30, 5:32 am | [comment link]
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