Meaningful Distinction:

Patrick S. Lasswell Look outward for something to accomplish, not inward for something to despise.
pslblog at gmail dot com
Sunday, February 20, 2005
Torture and the Two Percent Military

This is a long post, but it deals with a complex topic that needs to be addressed. Please bear with me and read the whole thing. I have been considering this matter for some months and consider this to be the an extension of earlier posts.

One of the secrets the military doesn't talk about very much is that roughly two percent of the troops are stone cold stress-proof machines. These folks just don't break like regular people do, and when you put them together in groups, they break even less. Don't get me wrong, everybody breaks, but these guys routinely operate in stress environments that destroy other military personnel.

I have had the pleasure of knowing a number of these folks, the wisdom of never pretending to be one, and the honor of being accepted as a pleasant nuisance in their company. Possibly the latter is due to my willingness to provide them with drinks and keep my mouth shut...okay, probably. Their company is desirable because they have amazing stories that are frequently true, their heads are out of their asses at (almost) all times, and they establish a sense of comfortable belonging when people are not screaming at them. They are really great to have as friends, largely because they deeply understand loyalty.

The toughness that the two percenters have is what most of the elite organizations are trying to select for, and that they mostly accomplish. I say mostly because the prestige of the organizations that select for the two percenters is so high that they attract a god-awful number of wanna-be's, and no selection process is perfect. Too often people with more ambition than wisdom get into positions they have no capacity to deal with. Too often people with a lot of ambition worship form and ignore substance, and regrettably, the military is bad at dealing with this specific problem. War…conflict…tends to sort this problem out, but it frequently tends to do so by killing off or screwing up not just the idiot, but also everybody around him. Currently, SEAL Team Seven [Corrected] is facing this problem, due to a person who couldn't maintain the standards of teamwork essential to SEAL operations, and I will get into this more later.

I believe it is true that the will of the United States is to not accept a military that tortures. The US population…more importantly the US electorate…needs to believe that there are no atheists in foxholes and no Americans running torture chambers. This has nothing to do with the capacity of the two percenters to deal with torture in a professional manner. Quite frankly, the capacity hurt people without lingering effect on your own psyche is the ultimate selector for the two percenters. The ones who can deal with the stress of deliberately and with professional malice causing harm on a human being and still be capable of healthy human interaction afterwards are the real two percenters. People like this exist, and some of them are my friends.

The Catch-22 of this situation is that while there are people who can responsibly and effectively obtain information through torture, regardless of the beliefs of the electorate, there really is no capacity in the US military to compose a meaningful doctrine on torture. The kinds of stress that is used to select for the two percenters is painful to consider; rational minds shy away from thinking about that much suffering, even though the process is invariably voluntary. Getting a reasoned discussion about imposing physical stress is extremely difficult because the topic starts with nightmares. Getting people to let go of their own horror and talk intelligently is something that just is not happening, and is one real limitation of a free country. Civilian control of the military is essential to lasting freedom, but it interferes with this capacity of the most capable fighting men on the planet.

The next absurdity that our military faces is that because torture is forbidden, our capacity to deal with torture resistant enemy fighters is marginalized. Manadel al-Jamadi was captured by elements of SEAL Team 2 in October, 2003 and died in captivity after resisting control. Manadel al-Jamadi was suspected of being instrumental in the bombing of International Committee of the Red Cross headquarters. The SEALs who captured him have been accused of deliberately beating the al-Jamadi to death. This accusation comes from a corpsman assigned to the team who was caught stealing from his teammates. I learned in my First Responder course that the human body can be incredibly fragile, and that you can kill somebody through improper handling of a patient. I have no difficulty believing that someone with the sick will to blow up a Red Cross HQ would also have the will to resist being subdued so strongly that death was more likely than unconsciousness.

It is also important to remember that our opponents in the current war have no freedom imposed limitations on respecting humanity, and in fact have extensive experience both in torture and resisting torture. This is one skill that the terrorists value highly and they have shown great determination and success in relating it to their disciples. Manadel al-Jamadi would laugh louder than the flames of hell right now to see the confusion his death has caused his enemies by successfully resisting control. Partly this is due to the philosophical underpinnings of the Islamist movement that values resistance very highly. It is also due to the large number of the sick bastards who follow Islamism having spent time in some of the worst prisons in the world.

Another consideration in this mess is that while the US military has a strong commitment to remaining drug free, our enemies suffer no such limitations. Any detainee captured in the field can be higher than a kite on hashish and amphetamine cocktails to help him resist interrogation. Subduing through chemical means is not an option for detainees who are on unknown dosages of unknown drugs. Administering enough opiates to calm a detainee at the peak of a methamphetamine high is also administering enough opiates to kill him when the speed wears off. Enough pepper spray to burn through a hashish buzz is also enough pepper spray to cause anaphylactic shock.

The quickest doctrinal solution to this intractable problem is to load SEAL teams and others with more junk to assist in the physical restraint of resisting prisoners. This is a monumentally bad idea because it violates two working principles of current US doctrine; KISS and speed of action. "Keep It Simple, Stupid" is the principle that the less you have to forget, the less you will forget. Extra gear, beyond what experience has shown to be necessary is just something else to get in the way of the mission. Additionally, our troops are already carrying body armor to keep them alive, enough ammunition to fight their way out of the inevitable ambush, water to keep them effective and medical supplies to deal with the inevitable IED wounds. Adding more gear slows down our troops and makes them more vulnerable because they take longer to accomplish their mission and return. Wire ties and sandbags may not be the highest expression of prisoner control, but they are light, available, and work.

Every other refinement or addition to current doctrine has to face the real world scrutiny in the field. Sometimes these changes work well, like using heavy armor in urban warfare worked in Second Fallujah. Sometimes these changes get our people killed. Regrettably, journalists have shown themselves incredibly poorly equipped to lead a discussion on this or any other military topic. Academics have done their best to show journalists as respectable by way of being utterly irresponsible and untouchable behind walls of tenure, so their contributions cannot be expected to add to any discussion on the boundaries of torture.

Where does this leave the two percent military? The old adage, "cheat but don't get caught" has shown its frailty possibly due to the expansion of Special Forces operations and personnel. This is a serious problem, and I don't have a ready answer. I suspect that the decision to handle the death of Manadel al-Jamadi as a Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP) matter instead of a Court Martial is probably wise. While Court Martial's make better headlines, NJP makes better changes in an operational military.

A deeply grateful Hat Tip to Jason Van Steenwyk for a post let me finish this.
It was SEAL Team Seven
This is a dumb discussion on one level. Let me explain.

What you are asking for is having full empathy for the good, but just enough for the bad to make them hurt to protect the good.

Until you walk down a long road, you don't know what walking is about. Welcome to the road.

In ranching there are good animals, ok animals, sickly animals, and the ones out to get you. You make sure you get the latter. And you shoot all dogs on sight. Get in a room full of ranchers and they will nod their heads. This does not mean your lab does not sleep on your bed, but that you have made a distinction.

To city folks, the sight of a rancher stopping on a country road and shooting a stray then driving away calmly brings howls for prosecution. Where were they when a pack of strays killed your calves? Or when that blue ford explorer dropped the two dogs off? They don't see the steady progression of incidents and attempts to find a solution that led to this point.

And then there is hired help and the assorted riff raff. Some men and women are worthless. They cheat, lie, steal, and cause mayhem and have a pack of brats to carry on the family tradition.

Among these scum are a handful of two-percenters. You see them check you out and look you over with cold eyes and you make damn sure you return the favor. And hope they move on.

Somehow we have gotten away from the real world assessment of men and women and what they are worth and what the downsides are to them. Some people are beyond worthless and are killers, pure and simple. They don't have to praise Allah to be scumbags.

Most terrorists are easily classifiable as Sociopaths. And if they were in the West would be serving life terms or be six feet under but only AFTER they did a Jeffrey Daumer.

We continue to accept dictatorships ( which are really just criminal gangs running a country ) and the unfettered freedom of easily identifiable ( via tests ) of Sociopaths.

We also continue to project our morals and mental states on others who are basically hardened criminals. But we cannot expect reciprocity from them. So why do we put them in the same set of guidelines as we do normal people?

I don't know the rest of this story, but its clear that we need to rethink our approach to this militarily and socially.

If we know that someone will kill or has killed and wont stop, what should be done?
red river,

I would like to continue this conversation privately with you, but you put down a bum email address. Probably, given this topic you have a reason for that, so I'm not going to give you a hard time about that.

I cannot honestly speak for people on the ground experiencing the reality because I am not there and I never have been. Please give me credit for not pretending to be something I'm not. My perspective is a historical and sociological one. I am concerned with what the costs of our actions are going forward, and right now, there are heavy consequences for institutionalizing torture in the US military.

Honestly, I think that accepting torture as a regular part of doing business is bad for our military, regardless of who we are facing. I think that there are a lot of problems associated with torture that need to be considered for our forces to operate effectively. A huge element of this problem is indicated by the fact that you do not feel safe to use an actual email address, even though you had to speak out about this.

I would be happy to have this conversation with you at greater length in more secure ways. I respect the confidences of the people in the Special Forces community.
Former Army 96C, National Guard type, so take my blatherings with a grain of salt. Most of it is book- and classroom-learning regarding this subject.

My instructors were emphatic that torture does not work. It's an effective means to coersion, but then the coersive aspects of torture can lead to bad information if a subject detects any shred of what they think you want to hear them say. An example of this the Inquisition of medieval times. The torture the Inquisitors used, which they thought would elicit the truth, really only elicited compliance with expected behavior, that of parroting the "confessions" to demonic intercourse which seemed to be where the torturers were getting at with their line of questioning. In Vietnam a lot of bad information came out of torture, often for the same reason, or sometimes because a ready-made set of lies was prepared in advance as a way of dealing with torture.

When Islamofascists display a resistance to torture, what they're really displaying is a resistance to physical coercion. This is because they believe any entity of power in this life to be inferior to the power of the entity they fear which will govern their NEXT life. Similar behaviors can be observed of fundamentalist Christians, in similar situations (e.g., the early martyrs who refused to renounce Christ to their Roman torturers).

While Islamofascists are highly coercion-resistant, they tend not to be highly trickery-resistant. Some non-torturing interrogation techniques tend to be more effective here because the will and stubbornness of the captive's mind will actually work against him in these subtle, "mental chess game" scenarios.

A simple example: have a dusky comrade pose as a fellow "mujahedi" and start to share escape plans--to gain confidence--and then later, start to share overall knowledge of battle plans. It's not completely simple as that, but it's more in the direction of where you want to go with the "hard headed" captives, rather than low-brow physical means for which they've prepared the bulk of their mental defenses.

My point is that there are other communities in the USA that have a different ethic that they preserve and pursue often in private. In the ranching and farming community its a different world.

While other communities have an ethic that is at best ignorant ( I have had people come by my ranch to ask me if I put cows in the barn when its raining. ) and at worst dangerous ( suing me for shooting their dog with its mouth around a sick calf's neck. ), the active ethic continues in the dark or in the rain, but it lives because the place and occupation demands nothing less.

We have made our choice as a society to accept this Ranching ethic (constrained by law ) and live with it. What is dumb is that we ignore this distinction and the fact that we live with it. Lets extend and apply it elsewhere.

Book learning ( Cigarette Man ) is fine. But there is a whole world of hard-knocks learning that is just as valid. If I don't write it down, it does not mean it does not work and is not effective. Do you think that Torquedemada did not get co-conspirator names? He did.

If I catch someone in my barn and his buddy runs away. What do I do? Do I call the cops or do I take my time and get info out of Joe-Thief? I get info out of Joe by scaring the crap out of him. I want his buddys name, cell number, and home address, then I call the cops.

Now you and I know that the first few hours of a POWs' capture is the golden time. Either he will start to talk or it will be a long time. Maintaining that emotional momentum is the key. Sleep deprivation is a great tool, too, isnt it?

Then, what is acceptable and what will work given the person and the place and conditions? People are pretty predictable and I wager so is getting the information out of them one way or the other.

It then comes down to distinctions. Certain scumbags have no worth and are better off dead except for what they know.

There are a lot of families out there who'd like to know what happened to their kids. And there are some terrorists whose plans we'd like to know.

So now it comes down to distinctions and due process ( expedited in some cases ).
Red River,

I think a lot of what you say has merit, but there are some significant considerations that have to be kept in mind.

In 1991, I talked to my Grandmother Johnson about the fall of the Soviet Union and she remembered quite clearly, "...when that all got started." My degree is in History, and so I dwell on the lasting significance of actions. When you break a prisoner, especially if you do not provide them with a beating for an excuse, they are going to remember it for the rest of their lives. Breaking a jihadi prisoner is a matter of creating a walking toxic waste that is going to be wandering around for fifty years. Killing them is not a workable situation, because somebody always lives. Also, we went into Afghanistan and Iraq to stop genocidal bastards, not to become them.

Ranching is hard living that requires a different set of rules, but there is a set of rules. You can learn to be a good rancher and a good man in the US. We have an understood concept for how to do this. The US military does not have an accepted model for being a good torturer and a good man. The models that are made tend not to survive civilian scrutiny or bean-counter management. Also, a lot of the time, the duration a US torturer can hold it together and still be a funtional member of the military tends to be really short and fragile. Turning our own people, especially the really capable ones, into walking toxic waste dumps is huge problem that we do not have a working solution for. Some things are just so taboo that they screw up everything they touch.

I am really worried for the Special Forces community because I think that torture is going to bite them on the ass and not let go for a generation or more. There is a convoy of "blindside" stress attached to abusing prisoners. You may have a working model for dealing with this, but I would continue to be very careful who you share it with.
Two points to Red River:

1) Torquemada wasn't after "co-conspirators". He was after heretics, Pagans, Jews, and Satanists. What he ended up doing was tantamount to a weapon of mass destruction in Spain, indiscriminately killing random members of the population for no other reason than they were names that the tortured prisoners could easily name, in order to shift from a "being tortured endlessly mode" to a "quick death" mode. He may as well have simply rounded up whole neighborhoods, caring nothing for guilt or innocence.

DID Torquemada manage to kill a few Jews and heretics and Satanists? Possibly. But only at random as they got swept up in the same silly tsunami of a witch-hunt that mostly victimized the innocent.

Translate Torquemada's methods to today, and you'll have random non-terrorist Iraqis being named as fellow terrorists by detainees who themselves probably weren't terrorists to begin with, themselves named by petty thieves mistaken for terrorists. And the whole place would start to make Vietnam look like the cakewalk machete-confiscation exercise the 10th Mountain managed not to fuck up, in Haiti.

I'm not saying "Iraq is Vietnam" NOW, but it could BECOME that, if we start to really act a fool.

2) The magic four hours to get tactical intelligence. There isn't much sleep deprivation can do to help you there, is there? "Gee, I've gone without sleep a whole four hours... OH the humanity..." While field operational troops may view a little ad hoc torture and a simplistic application of the "Fear Up" approach, as the sine qua non and total range of options for getting information, that isn't necessarily the case. Andy McNabb of the British SAS was captured and tortured by Baathist forces in the First Gulf War, and was tortured for WEEKS without him breaking and giving up anything that the Saddamite bastards could use. It goes beyond merely a case of "SAS are tough as nails", although that's certainly part of it. It's a mental dimension to the situation, because the torture scenario is expected, and amounts to a "frontal attack" to the mind for which there are easy ambushes that the mind creates in the spare moments here and there between torture sessions.

Some Islamofascists might easily break to field-expedient torture, but I'd hate to have to count on it, given the fanatical indoctrination they get about the afterlife, the rewards for not breaking, and the hellfirey punishment they'd get FOR breaking. And if they do finally talk, I'd have to have my life depend on that info being reliable. And all this is assuming word of the torture doesn't get out and scandalize the U.S. even worse than we've already been, in general public opinion.

Do what you can to get the vital four-hour info, but only IF you can. If there is no early indication of a break, you'd better let the professional interrogators take it from there. Not Abu Ghraib clowns, to the real professional interrogators.

Oh, and leave no identifiable marks from what you do. That embedded reporter around the corner might NOT be from Fox News, y'know.
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