Friday, January 27, 2006

US Army: Terrorists' Rights More Important Than US Soldiers

My American Footprints blog-mate, MC MasterChef, flagged an article in the Washington Post which addressed some of the concerns I laid out in a prior post on the institutional reluctance of the armed forces to engage the panoply of threats facing them. Instead, I argued, the military has a tendency to prepare for the conflicts it would prefer to engage in, at the expense of the inconvenient and problematic smaller wars that it will inevitably face. A positive trend is emerging, however, as the US Army has begun to take certain steps to reinvigorate its counterinsurgency training and strategizing.

After decades of being told that their job was to close in on and destroy the enemy, officers are being taught that sometimes the best thing might be not to attack but to co-opt the enemy, perhaps by employing him, or encouraging him to desert, or by drawing him into local or national politics.

It is a new focus devoted to one overarching topic: counterinsurgency, putting down an armed and political campaign against a government, the U.S. military's imperative in Iraq.

Officers studying at the Army's Command and General Staff College here are flocking to elective courses on the subject, with three times as many enrolled this year as last. Soon the Army will require a block of instruction in counterinsurgency for all of the 1,000 or so majors who attend the college each year. [...]

Conscious that it largely walked away from counterinsurgency after the Vietnam War -- the subject was not mentioned in the mid-1970s version of the Army's key fighting manual -- the service now is trying to ensure that the mistake is not repeated. Spearheading that effort is Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, whose doctoral dissertation at Princeton was on the Vietnam War and who later commanded the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq. "I think the changes are very broad," Petraeus said. He oversees several of the Army's training bases and schools" with his new job here.[...]

Most of all, they said, the key to victory is not defeating the enemy but winning the support of Iraqis and making the insurgents irrelevant. [emphasis added]
This is good news, yet the ultimate significance of this sea-change will be borne out by the follow through. Around the time of the Vietnam war there was also a surge in such counterinsurgency scholarship, but the momentum petered out and the leadership began to turn its attention elsewhere as memories of Vietnam began to fade - or were consciously repressed. As the article points out, by the mid-1970s, counterinsurgency was already curricula non grata.

The hope is that this time, this invaluable field of study will have some staying power, and the Pentagon will take measures to harmonize its spending priorities with the lessons being learned in the classroom and in the field. I know it was only a QDR, and that QDR's are often behind the curve and rendered moot by the spending that Congress authorizes, but it still struck me as wrongheaded and disturbing to see such a lack of balance in that document.

Some Bush administration officials and conservative pundits were alarmed at some of the thought emerging from these courses, however. Most cited sentiments such as these as an indication that this training might be going too far:

Earlier this month, 19 officers pondered such questions in [a counterinsurgency] seminar. Most were Iraq veterans.

When the military detains civilians, they agreed, it is important to treat them well.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld immediately dispatched Major General Geoffrey Miller to "Gitmo-ize" the classroom, insisting that these Iraq war veterans were unduly influenced by the ACLU, Amnesty International and other quixotic human rights organizations. According to an anonymous DOD official, "The gloves were coming off" with respect to the syllabus on detainee treatment.

Unnamed administration officials were quoted as saying, "It seems like the Army cares more about the rights of terrorists than they do about protecting the American people. I mean, don't these so-called counterinsurgency experts know how they treat Americans when we're the captives? This is becoming the US Army of Dick Durbins or something."

Norman Podhoretz and James Taranto insisted that the Army's new approach to detainee treatment amounted to a "unilateral the face of a still intransigent enemy" and then proceeded to claim that the Army wasn't supporting the troops by employing these "allegedly" effective counterinsurgency tactics.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' office suggested that some of these soldiers and instructors might be al-Qaeda sympathizers and that the DOJ would consider searching their computers for evidence of such treasonous behavior - or unauthorized pornographic material. According to legal memos produced by Gonzales on the new standards being taught, "The treatment of detainees will not alienate local populations unless such treatment causes pain that rises to the level of organ failure or death."

The Vice President's office immediately issued a statement trying to correct what was termed a "fundamental misunderstanding on detainee treatment" in Iraq and beyond. "Detainees are treated well," the prepared statement insisted. "We like to think of each of these prisons as a type of battlefront 'bed and breakfast'." While the statement acknowledged that some abuse and torture might be occurring, "Ultimately, these are like vacation getaways for civilian detainees - they get three square meals prepared to their liking, a bed to sleep in (when permitted), exercise (although some may be "stressful") and time off from their jobs." One official went on, "Most detention-resorts can't compare to the luxurious accommodations at the beach front Hotel of Indefinite Dalliance at Guantanamo, but the thought that they aren't treated well is absurd."

There was also a chorus of condemnations from the conservative commentariat. Michelle Malkin suggested that the US Army, instead, should consider creating a network of domestic internment resorts for American Muslim men so that they could "vacation" for the foreseeable future.

Rush Limbaugh insisted that everyone loves good natured "frat pranks" like those on display at Abu Ghraib and most would consider the sexually humiliating tactics employed by female interrogators an added bonus. "We are already treating them well, like they're our little brown pledge brothers, but somehow these terror coddling Army instructors are indoctrinating our soldiers with ACLU-propaganda." "Femi-nazis," he added somewhat non-sequitur.

David Horowitz announced that he would be investigating the instructors for liberal bias, and offered a $100 cash reward to any students who could document liberal bias in the counterinsurgency classroom.

Max Boot argued that perhaps these soldiers should go through basic training again. "Why should civilian detainees be spared the hardships that our volunteer military enlistees face by their own volition," Boot quipped. "Last time I checked, we weren't losing the hearts and minds of our soldiers after they emerge from boot camp, so how could we possibly lose the hearts and minds of civilian detainees when they are forced to undergo the same treatment against their will? Furthermore, Saddam was worse." Boot went on:

This could lead to an anomalous result: a system that treats captured terrorists better than we treat our own soldiers.
Republican Senator James Inhofe said he was "Outraged at the Army's new approach to detainee treatment." And then that he was "Outraged that someone was outraged at his outrage," and that in general, "this is outrageous."

The Army officials involved in the teaching of these controversial new approaches could not be reached for comment.

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