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.