The Talking Dog

June 20, 2008, Just say no

Thomas Nephew, with his spanking new web address (sidebar duly updated), takes a page from... someplace vaguely familiar... and delivers this hard-hitting original piece of citizen journalism, which he creatively calls "Interview with an Interrogator." Specifically, Thomas interviewed a retired military interrogator designated "Ray" who tells us that he been ordered to "waterboard" someone, he simply would have refused such an illegal order, and documented his refusal, damn the consequences to his own career.

"Ray" readily notes the deliberate muddying of waters with Presidential and Attorney General edicts that "wrong is right" which lead to confusion, permissiveness, and to Abu Ghraib. (Similar complaints about this path-- and how "high and dry" it left low ranking soldiers-- was poignantly expressed by former military linguist Erik Saar in our interview with him).

On the subject of Abu Ghraib... "Ray" tells us:

[I]tís important to keep facts straight and in reasonable proportion. Abu Ghraib, for example. The abuses and resulting pictures were not an interrogation tactic, but a guard force night shift run amok. Donít get me wrong: this was without question a horrific abuse of detainees in U.S. custody, and must be addessed and those responsible held to account. All Iím saying is that itís a different discussion. Yes, there were comments from interrogators to ďmake sure he has a bad nightĒ etc, maybe even with a nudge/wink, and those interrogators share the resulting fiasco, because they were not clear in their instructions. But I donít think what resulted was really what the interrogators had in mind. Nevertheless, it is this nudge/wink and between the lines communication that were part of the permissive environment that ended as it did. Most of the orders leading to the abuses were not in writing, if any of them were. The only exception I can think of would be the use of ďmilitary working dogsĒ. That was a technique promoted by a general (who was not an intelligence officer, let alone an interrogator). Unfortunately, by virtue of his rank and position, he held authority over detainee treatment and interrogation procedures. As for the ex-military blogger you mentioned, I only say that we all see clearly in hindsight. The answer, again, lies in not putting these soldiers and other intelligence professionals into this netherworld of blurred lines and questionable legal definitions, for soldiers are conditioned to follow lawful orders. They are not lawyers, and we can not expect them to be. They must have clearly defined delineations, which were provided under the Laws of Land Warfare and the Geneva Conventions, and donít need the waters muddied by policymakers and their lawyers, who in the end donít know anything about interrogation beyond what theyíve seen on television.

And there's the rub; the confusion (which could and did lead to abuse) was quite deliberate. The intention was to end up with the abuse, and quite frankly, torture, because of a fantasy. A. FANTASY. We have morally debased our nation and undermined its laws for the fantasy of effectiveness because a few idiots (including at least one who sits on our Supreme Court and another member of some undisclosed branch of government who goes duck hunting with him) are stupid enough, crazy enough, or both, to believe that Jack Bauer blowing off a suspect's kneecaps on 24 is an actual effective interrogation technique, rather than a heinous crime, and even worse, if possible, this torture does not accomplish the gathering of usable information or intelligence: only the pain-staking process of rapport-building does that.

The expression is "amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics..." and... any guesses as to which group is running our country these days? (Admittedly, this is probably a gross insult to amateurs.)


I agree that the confusion was deliberate at Abu Ghraib, that the "(barely) plausible deniability" part was part of the recipe.

I think some particular people got sent to Abu Ghraib along with Miller who weren't the kind of ethical professional "Ray" is. Whether they were on the same plane to Iraq or had been to the same meetings before I can't guess, but I think they were all there at Cheney, Addington, et al's behest to do what they did and to encourage pawns like Lynndie England and Graner to do for them. Nasty pawns in their own right, Graner, anyway, but I don't quite agree with "guard shift run amok." It was that, too, but it was encouraged to be so both directly and indirectly. Dogs and "make sure he has a bad night" are not the stuff of Army Field Manuals.

Posted by Thomas Nephew at June 20, 2008 1:45 PM

General Geoffrey "Jack D. Ripper" Miller had no intel or interrogation experience; he was an artillery officer, who believed that everything was a volume business, including intel.
There seems little doubt he was sent to "Gitmoize" Abu Ghraib, thereby turning unpleasant POW camps into chambers of horrors in at least two different hemispheres.

And in the end, the geniuses who decided to do all this never once thought of asking actual intel people ... they just knew from their Fox T.V. viewing habits (despite centuries of evidence to the contrary) that torture was somehow an effective means of gathering intel.

Naturally, 20-something kids with little or no experience, let alone knowledge of detainees culture or even language, are asked to do the impossible, and just because we ask them to abuse the subjects (in total derogation of their training, btw) we're suddenly going to learn valuable intel?

The right-wing has been having a war on educated and expert people for a long, long time, culminating in a President and Vice-President who literally stand for Orwell's credo, "Ignorance is strength," and an aiding and abetting media who tell us that this is true, and that policy knowledge is boring and what matters is who we want to have beer with. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. And most importantly, ignorance is strength.

The problem is, it actually isn't.

Posted by the talking dog at June 20, 2008 4:42 PM