23 January 2006

Torture Is Rooted In Racism

Why did soldiers feel it was O.K. to torture detainees? Ask them. A Court Martial convicted Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jr. of negligent homicide in the torture death of an Iraqi general. He was prosecuted by Army Major Tiernan Dolan.

The treatment of the Iraqi general "could fairly be described as torture," Dolan said.

In an e-mail to a commander, Dolan said, Welshofer wrote that restrictions on interrogation techniques were impeding the Army's ability to gather intelligence. Welshofer wrote that authorized techniques came from Cold War-era doctrine that did not apply in Iraq, Dolan said.

"Our enemy understands force, not psychological mind games," Dolan quoted from Welshofer's message. Dolan said an officer responded by telling Welshofer to "take a deep breath and remember who we are."

In other words, European soldiers shouldn't be tortured, while this is appropriate for Arab soldiers (note that this prisoner was a military officer).

This isn't an aberration. Consider this, written by a general who has served in Iraq with the most steadfast of the U.S. military's allies in Iraq:

In an article published this week [the week of January 10, 2006] in the Army magazine Military Review, British Brig. Nigel Aylwin-Foster, who was deputy commander of a program to train the Iraqi military, said American officers in Iraq displayed such "cultural insensitivity" that it "arguably amounted to institutional racism" and may have spurred the growth of the insurgency. The Army has been slow to adapt its tactics, he argues, and its approach during the early stages of the occupation "exacerbated the task it now faces by alienating significant sections of the population."

(Full article here.)

The U.S. military is second to none in blowing up identified targets. But, in counter-insurgency actions, the key issue is finding the right targets, which are rarely heavily defended from the perspective of a U.S. military unit, and winning over allies in the local population.

We could have learned this lesson from our counter-insurgency experience in Vietnam. We could have foreseen future counter-insurgency actions from that fact that they have been the predominant activity of First World military forces in the past several decades. But, instead, the lesson the U.S. military learned from Vietnam was that counter-insurgency actions are hard. So, it made a conscious policy decision to develop a force structure designed to fight Cold War battles with Russisa to the exclusion of any dedicated counter-insurgency capabilities, in the hope that this would discourage U.S. Presidents from committing them to such missions. This decision was a mistake that has cost us dearly in the Iraq War.

Also, for those, like Secretary of State Rice, who say that the U.S. does not engage in torture, it is worth remembering that out of many custodial deaths in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of which have been declared to be homicides by U.S. officials, that this one is the only one that has produced by a conviction, and the U.S. prosecutor in this case called what happened in this case torture.


elendil said...

Here's another example-- Moazzam Begg was tortured at Bagram, and saw another detainee beaten to death. Here is what he said about a conversation he had with one of the guards (source):
And one of the guards there of that unit told me when I used to have discussions with them, that when we see you people we can't look at you as human beings. Our psyche does not allow us to do that - because if we did we wouldn't treat you this way. It's easy for us to dehumanise you. First of all most of you guys don't speak the same language. Secondly, you look different. Thirdly, you're dressed different. Fourthly, you're in cages and we're out here with the guns.
It looks like 3/4 racism, and 1/4 Stanford prison experiment.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Daily Kos diarist Susan Hu has a notable case which she juxtaposes against this one. A peace demonstrators was recently sentenced to six months in jail, more than this torture murderer received.