The Recuperative Power of the Enemy

May 16, 2007 at 11:21 pm | Posted in American politics, Bush Administration, Military, Mit Romney, Mitt Romney, neo-conservatives, Republicans, Torture, violence, War, War on Terror | 4 Comments

Charles Krulak and Joseph P. Hoar, both leaders in the military (Krulak was the commandant of the Marine Corps and Hoar was the commander in chief of USCENTCOM), write an op ed in today’s Washington Post about the very negative effects of torture in our “war on terror.” I’ll let them speak for themselves, but their main point is very powerful. The use of torture effectively becomes the recuperative power of the enemy, giving them strength where you’d think it would make them cower. This is something a fool like Mitt Romney just doesn’t understand, but one John McCain, who was tortured himself, does. Let me quote from the two writers:

These assertions that “torture works” may reassure a fearful public, but it is a false security. We don’t know what’s been gained through this fear-driven program. But we do know the consequences.

As has happened with every other nation that has tried to engage in a little bit of torture — only for the toughest cases, only when nothing else works — the abuse spread like wildfire, and every captured prisoner became the key to defusing a potential ticking time bomb. Our soldiers in Iraq confront real “ticking time bomb” situations every day, in the form of improvised explosive devices, and any degree of “flexibility” about torture at the top drops down the chain of command like a stone — the rare exception fast becoming the rule.

To understand the impact this has had on the ground, look at the military’s mental health assessment report released earlier this month. The study shows a disturbing level of tolerance for abuse of prisoners in some situations. This underscores what we know as military professionals: Complex situational ethics cannot be applied during the stress of combat. The rules must be firm and absolute; if torture is broached as a possibility, it will become a reality.

This has had disastrous consequences. Revelations of abuse feed what the Army’s new counterinsurgency manual, which was drafted under the command of Gen. David Petraeus, calls the “recuperative power” of the terrorist enemy.

Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld once wondered aloud whether we were creating more terrorists than we were killing. In counterinsurgency doctrine, that is precisely the right question. Victory in this kind of war comes when the enemy loses legitimacy in the society from which it seeks recruits and thus loses its “recuperative power.”

The torture methods that Tenet defends have nurtured the recuperative power of the enemy. This war will be won or lost not on the battlefield but in the minds of potential supporters who have not yet thrown in their lot with the enemy. If we forfeit our values by signaling that they are negotiable in situations of grave or imminent danger, we drive those undecideds into the arms of the enemy. This way lies defeat, and we are well down the road to it.

This is not just a lesson for history. Right now, White House lawyers are working up new rules that will govern what CIA interrogators can do to prisoners in secret. Those rules will set the standard not only for the CIA but also for what kind of treatment captured American soldiers can expect from their captors, now and in future wars. Before the president once again approves a policy of official cruelty, he should reflect on that.

It is time for us to remember who we are and approach this enemy with energy, judgment and confidence that we will prevail. That is the path to security, and back to ourselves.

Americans, do not vote for any Republican in 2008. They will continue the practice of torture, a self-defeating practice wherein the torturer loses. This is not the way to victory. The more we continue practicing these “enhanced techniques”—I really don’t care what people call them, torture is torture is torture—the worse off we will be.


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  1. I wonder how long it will take for people to speak out against this black mark on our country. I’m sure the Republicans never will, but the rest of the sane country has to come around….

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  3. Jack Balkin comments on this op-ed and writes:

    Generals Krulak and Hoar are referring to the shameful and ignorant remarks of the Republican Presidential candidates, where each tried to outdo the other in showing how tough and macho they were. Interestingly, only John McCain, who has actually had significant military experience and has actually been tortured, was willing to disagree and say that torture was wrong. Rudy Giuliani tried to hedge by saying he would approve “every method they could think of” but “[i]t shouldn’t be torture.” McCain would have none of that. He pointed out that the Administration’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” were torture.

    Mitt Romney, who is now apparently the front-runner in Iowa, was perhaps the most shameless of all:

    I’m glad they’re at Guantanamo. I don’t want them on our soil. I want them on Guantanamo, where they don’t get the access to lawyers they get when they’re on our soil. I don’t want them in our prisons. I want them there.

    Some people have said, we ought to close Guantanamo. My view is, we ought to double Guantanamo. We ought to make sure that the terrorists — (applause) — and there’s no question but that in a setting like that where you have a ticking bomb that the president of the United States — not the CIA interrogator, the president of the United States — has to make the call. And enhanced interrogation techniques have to be used — not torture but enhanced interrogation techniques, yes.

    Faced with the catastrophe and the shame of our experience at Guantanamo Bay, Mitt Romney wants to double down. And he wants to engage in the fig leaf of “enhanced interrogation techniques” that McCain was willing to call torture.

    It is difficult to assess whether Romney is simply an ignorant fool or whether he believes that his audience is full of ignorant fools. All we know is that the “let’s have two Gitmos” line brought applause.

  4. The folks clapping are the same “28 Percenters” (h/t Atrios) that, as Digby wrote:

    … don’t care if he’s wearing a teddy under his suit and sleeping with the family schnauzer as long as he promises to spill as much blood as possible.

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