T Nation

Former USMC Commandant on Torture

It’s Our Cage, Too
Torture Betrays Us and Breeds New Enemies

By Charles C. Krulak and Joseph P. Hoar
Thursday, May 17, 2007; A17

Fear can be a strong motivator. It led Franklin Roosevelt to intern tens of thousands of innocent U.S. citizens during World War II; it led to Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt, which ruined the lives of hundreds of Americans. And it led the United States to adopt a policy at the highest levels that condoned and even authorized torture of prisoners in our custody.

Fear is the justification offered for this policy by former CIA director George Tenet as he promotes his new book. Tenet oversaw the secret CIA interrogation program in which torture techniques euphemistically called “waterboarding,” “sensory deprivation,” “sleep deprivation” and “stress positions” – conduct we used to call war crimes – were used. In defending these abuses, Tenet revealed: “Everybody forgets one central context of what we lived through: the palpable fear that we felt on the basis of the fact that there was so much we did not know.”

We have served in combat; we understand the reality of fear and the havoc it can wreak if left unchecked or fostered. Fear breeds panic, and it can lead people and nations to act in ways inconsistent with their character.

The American people are understandably fearful about another attack like the one we sustained on Sept. 11, 2001. But it is the duty of the commander in chief to lead the country away from the grip of fear, not into its grasp. Regrettably, at Tuesday night’s presidential debate in South Carolina, several Republican candidates revealed a stunning failure to understand this most basic obligation. Indeed, among the candidates, only John McCain demonstrated that he understands the close connection between our security and our values as a nation.

Tenet insists that the CIA program disrupted terrorist plots and saved lives. It is difficult to refute this claim – not because it is self-evidently true, but because any evidence that might support it remains classified and unknown to all but those who defend the program.

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.

Charles C. Krulak was commandant of the Marine Corps from 1995 to 1999. Joseph P. Hoar was commander in chief of U.S. Central Command from 1991 to 1994.


You ever hear of the Geneva Convention? I served under Krulak, and the Corps. was in good shape. This war is out of our hands. It is pitiful that we want it to go on. It was a mess for many years, and we invloved ourselves in a mess for many more. They will not ever listen to us, and they will always have terrible shit going on over there, and as long as we’re there, we will continue to lose servicemen.

Commandant: Marines must focus on values
Marine officers admonished after results of survey on battlefield ethics
The Associated Press
Updated: 7:29 p.m. MT May 17, 2007

WASHINGTON - The Marine Corps commandant is admonishing his officers to stress a need for ethics on the battlefield after a survey found Marines a bit more likely than soldiers to condone torture to gain information or save a comrade’s life.

Gen. James T. Conway told Pentagon reporters Thursday that he wants to examine whether Marines are more prone to not follow military rules of engagement. He is telling his officers to make sure their Marines understand the importance of ethics in the fight.

“I was a little bit disturbed by what I saw because, one, Marines were more likely to do those things than were soldiers,” he said. “I want to get after that because, again, those things are things that either incite the population or, conversely, help to win the fight if you do them right.”

Ethics on the battlefield has been a persistent and troublesome issue for the military during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. High profile incidents include the killings of 24 civilians at Haditha by Marines, the rape and killing of a young Iraqi woman and the slaying of her family by Army soldiers, and the abuse and sexual humiliation of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison.

At the same time, Conway said an Army commander in Afghanistan was wrong when he issued a public apology for an incident in March where Marines “killed and wounded innocent Afghan people.”

Conway said Army Col. John Nicholson “was premature to apologize, in that there is an investigation ongoing to determine what happened. If the investigation should determine that there are charges that should be levied, then there will be a hearing, perhaps a court martial.” Conway added that the military was not wrong to make $2,000 payments to the families of those killed.

‘More of the thumping and the slamming’
Nicholson this month read to reporters an apology given to the families for an incident in Nangahar province that left as many as 19 Afghans dead and 50 injured. An explosives-rigged minivan crashed into a convoy of Marines. A U.S. military commander later determined that Marines used excessive force when they fired back at civilian cars and pedestrians as they sped away.

On Thursday, Conway sent a memo to all of his officers directing them to re-emphasize the importance of values. He said he will hold a “values conference” on Monday with senior Marine Corps leaders to determine how best to reinforce the message to Marines at the battlefront.

Over time, he said, some fight training, may have “morphed to more of the physical, more of the thumping and the slamming” with less emphasis on when to use those skills and how to control them.

Marines may go to Baghdad
“We need to make sure every Marine understands the importance of ethics as an American trooper, and the importance of maintaining these core values as we go about a counterinsurgency fight,” he said, adding that he has directed some changes and improvements in training to better emphasize ethics.

The survey released this month found that fewer than half of the Marines questioned said they would report a member of their unit for killing or wounding an innocent civilian. Thirty-nine percent said torture should be allowed to gather information from an insurgent.

In other comments, Conway said the military has to do a better job telling the people in the U.S. about the costs of leaving Iraq too soon. He said there is a troubling “disconnect” between the amount of time the military thinks it will take to stabilize the country and the amount of patience the public has with the war.

Speaking as Congress continues to press for a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq, Conway declined to say how many troops will have to stay in Iraq or for how long.

But, he said, “I do believe that there’s a certain amount of time that it takes to overcome an insurgency-type of environment. Historically, it’s been somewhere between nine and 10 years, with various levels of effort.”

2,000 tapped
He said there are still about 2,000 Marines preparing to head into Iraq. While he said he prefers that the Marines all serve together in the Anbar province, there is the possibility they could be used in Baghdad, where the levels of violence have continued to spike.

Conway also said the Marines are pushing the purchasing regulations right to the edge in an effort to get as many of the new Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles to the front lines. The Army and Marines are working to replace many of their Humvees with the MRAPs, which have a v-shaped hull that can better deflect explosions.

Acting Army Secretary Pete Geren, in a memo this week to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said the Army would anticipate spending up to $20 billion through 2009 to purchase as many as 17,700 of the armored vehicles. He said the Army has sent 1,300 to the troops in Iraq, and expects to send an additional 600 by the end of the year.