LtC Allen West (via Trying to Grok) is being talked about on television, radio and internet right now. I hear some criticism but not much in the way of heartfelt condemnation of his actions. This may be because all of us would want a commanding officer who puts his men’s welfare ahead of his own. We understand that what he did was illegal, but was it wrong?
Last night I watched a former JAG member talk about it on O’Reilly (yeah I watch that show) and he was right about much of the justification for prosecuting LtC West. Over at Intel Dump, Phil Carter expands upon this. I understand it, but I hate that we have to do it.
Then the JAG guy pulls crap from his hat in the form of that old false claim that we can’t be bad because it endangers our own soldiers. Excuse me? When has following (or even attempting to follow) the Geneva Conventions and Western rules of war helped our own soldiers? North Korea? Nope. Vietnam? Hell no. Somalia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq (the first time and the second)? Has it ever made a difference? Maybe somebody else knows of a time when it has, because I can't think of any. The last time our enemy behaved in accordance with Western rules of war towards our own people was Germany in WWII. As it turns out that wasn’t because we played nice; rather it was because our cowboy, gangster reputation caused them to believe we would brutalize German POWs if ours weren’t treated well.
During WWII it wasn’t the thought that we’d play nice so they would that made the difference, it was the threat that if they didn’t play nice we wouldn’t. Since then the one thing we know for sure is that by playing nicely no matter what all we do is ensure that our enemies don’t have to worry about whether or not to play nice. It doesn’t have to be a consideration for them since they know that even if they flay ever POW and parade their skinless bodies over satellite TV we’ll play nice.
In 1987 a PBS show called Ethics in America did a show on military conundrums such as the one that faced LtC Allen West. James Fallow wrote an article about it and today that’s the only reference that google seems to be able to find. A couple of years ago there were more on the net. I recall reading more about it via Alta Vista.
Update: I accidentally omitted a very important part of the torture question. I've added it to the beginning of the quote where it belongs. Also, I seem to remember that it wasn't just about finding his men, but about saving their lives. Then again I could be misremembering and other than the Fallows article the episode and longer pieces of it have dropped off the face of the net.
Ogletree asked Downs to imagine that he was a young lieutenant again. He and his platoon were in the nation of "South Kosan," advising South Kosanese troops in their struggle against invaders from "North Kosan." (This scenario was apparently a hybrid of the U.S. roles in the Korean and Vietnam wars.) A North Kosanese unit had captured several of Downs's men alive--but Downs had also captured several of the North Kosanese. Downs did not know where his men were being held, but he thought his prisoners did.
And so Ogletree put the question: How far would Downs go to make a prisoner talk? Would he order him tortured? Would he torture the prisoner himself? Downs himself speculated on what he would do if he had a big knife in his hand. Would he start cutting the prisoner? When would he make himself stop, if the prisoner just wouldn't talk?
Downs did not shrink from the questions or the implications of his answers. He wouldn't enjoy doing it, he told Ogletree. He would have to live with the consequences for the rest of his life. But yes, he would torture the captive.
A Marine Corps officer juggled a related question: What would he do if he came across an American soldier who was about to torture or execute a bound and unarmed prisoner, who might be a civilian?
The Fallows writing available on the net fails to quote the answer I remember. Bear with me, since I’m old and having to pull this part from memory. Either the USMC officer (probably George M. Connell) or William Westmoreland had answered the question. Though Fallows doesn’t quote it I remember it going something like this: I’d arrest and prosecute him. I’d hate myself for having to do it, but I’d do it.
One thing Fallows notes that other writers have noted was that all the military personnel on the panel had given far more thought to ethical questions concerning their jobs than either Mike Wallace or Peter Jennings had.
Oh and one other thing, where the hell did all the references to this show go? Why does Google only return seven entries on “North Kosan?” There were a great deal more several years ago when I first read up and wrote on the journalists responses.