Too much political rhetoric framing the torture debate

Tuesday, June 30, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

The subject of whether or when enhanced interrogation of enemy combatants held prisoner by U. S. Forces is torture or crosses the line as torture is one I have avoided. I had my reasons – first, because it has been a patently obvious waste of media coverage I hoped would subside with the election of new people in the executive and legislative branches faced by far more pressing issues than an undisguised political witch hunt.

Second, it is apparent that the criticism of interrogation techniques largely originates from syndicated columnists and media sources; political officeholders and candidates with a political ax to grind; the far left “blame-America-first” crowd; and those programmed to unconditional hatred of former President George Bush — all appallingly ignorant of the actual procedures in use. Suffice to say, if a little knowledge is dangerous, the utter lack of it is a train wreck in waiting.

Strangely enough, even with the media’s and the Democratic Party’s deck of cards stacked against “enhanced interrogations” and the lack of consensus as to what constitutes torture, the latest Associated Press-GfK poll showed that 52 percent of the American people approve of torture in some instances. Taken to its lowest common denominator, the consensus of those approving is “do what needs to be done to save lives and protect the United States."

In this column, I am in no way endorsing torture; however, I do hope to establish a sense of perspective among individuals of reason and logic — I am fully aware not all of my audience is of this persuasion. First, one must recognize that virtually every criticism, whether initiated by special interest group, columnist, politician or individual citizen, begins with a scathing diatribe against the now infamous prison at Abu Ghraib. Alleged barbaric treatment of prisoners there has become the vehicle linking former President Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with introducing systemic torture in interrogating prisoners.

Admittedly, some of us will disagree over definitions of torture or even the application of any coercive methods for the purpose of gaining information. However, designating Abu Ghraib as the example of that administration’s rogue interrogation tactics must be analogized as "tell a lie long enough and often enough and it becomes accepted as truth.” I do not doubt that excesses may have been committed by some interrogators as former schoolyard bullies and sociopaths do enter this field — our military leadership will not long tolerate them.

The Abu Ghraib abomination, while being an intolerable stain on our honor, was not interrogation but rather, the maltreatment of prisoners by a few untrained and poorly supervised Army reservists called up by activation of a military police battalion. And, contrary to what we are continually led to believe, the media did not uncover this alleged atrocity — it was reported by an Army sergeant through his chain of command. To levy blame for Abu Ghraib on the U. S. Central Command or the Secretary of Defense is an absurdity contrived for political purpose.

Having some experience in prisoner interrogations and in training technique for escape, evasion and resisting interrogators, I do not consider the enhanced methods we employ to be torture. Sleep deprivation, loud music, harsh lighting and water boarding are unpleasant; however, our own pilots, Special Operations and reconnaissance troops are subjected to this in training. Unlike beheading, stoning and throat cutting, it is not designed to be fatal.

Historically, western cultures have been far less harsh in treatment of prisoners than have the east and Middle East. Examples of this include the experiences of those captured by Germany and Italy in World War II as opposed to those captured by the Japanese. This has proven true also in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, the French experience in the Middle East and in Iraq and Afghanistan as well.

The notion that the United States has lost the respect of the world by waterboarding three terrorists in 2002 (all of whom survived) is utterly foolish, designed only to elicit the support of the political left. Further, the present Congress has the authority, the votes and a favorably inclined president to prohibit these methods but has not chosen to do so.

Finally, the movement to make public the interrogation tapes is as ludicrous as it is dangerous. That these recordings will be used and doctored by our enemies to further endanger our troops is a no-brainer — anyone who fails to understand that is dangerously naive or more interested in avenging the 2000 Presidential election than in national security. Public opinion is shaped largely by its presentation in the media — we are poorly served by a misrepresentation of facts to sell an idea.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at



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