By Maj. Douglas Pryer, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest military
Politics aside, it is painfully clear today that the use by Americans
of those interrogation techniques misleadingly referred to as "enhanced" was
extremely unwise. The "Abu Ghraib" and
"Gitmo" scandals enraged even moderate Muslims and were a recruitment boon for
anti-U.S. Islamic terrorists and fighters. These and other torture scandals also demoralized and polarized
Americans, which in turn threatened to lead to our premature exit from Iraq.
the U.S. and its military get interrogation so wrong? The answer is simple: poor ethical leadership. Despite millions of man hours of military and
law enforcement experience which should have convinced them otherwise, many
leaders bought into the idea that brutish interrogation techniques are more
effective at producing reliable intelligence than the cunning application of
traditional, rapport-based approaches.
leaders then concluded that, if it might save lives, it was permissible for
Americans to use these brutal techniques. This conclusion was reached despite the proud American tradition of
treating prisoners of war humanely.
failure in ethical decision-making took place at all levels of command. At the national level, President Bush was
aware of his senior security advisors meeting on the issue of enhanced
techniques, and he approved of this discussion. For six weeks, Donald Rumsfeld gave blanket approval to interrogators at
Gitmo to use these techniques. From
Gitmo, these techniques migrated to Afghanistan, and from Afghanistan, to Iraq.
commander of combined U.S. forces in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez,
then approved two poorly considered interrogation policies. These policies encouraged the use of enhanced
interrogation techniques at Abu Ghraib, various special operations facilities,
and a few facilities run by conventional tactical units. At the hands of a twisted group of soldiers
at Abu Ghraib, such techniques as "presence of military working dogs" and
"removal of clothing" quickly turned into the sadistic abuse that shamed our
contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of interrogators in Iraq at this
time were not abusing detainees. The
interrogators of Task Force 1st Armored Division -- the largest
division-based task force in U.S. Army history -- did not once employ enhanced
techniques. Neither did interrogators at
such theatre-level facilities as camps Ashraf, Bucca, and Whitford. Also, of the many facilities belonging to the
101st Airborne Division, only one secretly slipped into the dark waters
of enhanced interrogation. Unfortunately, the good deeds of these units are largely unknown.
we know what went wrong then, are we on the right course now? In most respects, we are. Today, training at the MI schoolhouse is far
more robust than it was a few years ago. Well-trained interrogators are assigned to brigades in greater
numbers. And with the exception of an
absurdly restrictive requirement for interrogators to obtain General Officer
approval to keep detainees housed separately (a necessary precondition for most
successful interrogation), doctrine is far more consistent, comprehensive, and
clearer than it was six years ago.
Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 was also landmark legislation, making the
approaches and techniques identified in the Army interrogation field manual
(none of which are enhanced techniques) legally binding across the Department
we are in danger of missing the proverbial forest for the trees, since the
actual problem was never really the "letter of the law" but rather the morally
bankrupt spirit that sometimes undermined this law. After all, the same set of rules that existed
in Iraq had seen us through the small wars of the 80s and 90s without these rules
influencing interrogators to torture sources.
is nothing unless close behind it stands a warm living public opinion,"
Wendell Phillips, the great abolitionist, once said. Among our political and military leaders, a
warm opinion that has embraced the Geneva Conventions and how these conventions
are expressed in U.S. law, military regulations, and doctrine has been too
often absent since 9/11. Just as the
Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not immediately end (or even reduce) racism, the
Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 has not ended the belief of many leaders that it
is okay for Americans to torture if it might save lives.
all, what we need now are strong ethics programs that teach military leaders
how to reason toward professionally acceptable solutions to moral
dilemmas. Sadly, although such programs
now exist at Fort Huachuca, West Point, and a few other military institutions,
their existence is hardly uniform across our military.
get this fixed!
Major Doug Pryer is a counterintelligence
officer who deployed to Iraq from May 2003 to July 2004. His book, "The Fight for the High Ground: the
U.S. Army and Interrogation during Operation Iraqi Freedom I" is the first to
be published by the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College University
Press. To order, call the CGSC Foundation,
913-651-0624. All proceeds go to the
Foundation, which supports the education of officers at CGSC.