Trending: Torture and Toxic Army Leaders

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General Patraeus, one of the four generals featured in the book, The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army is easily one of the best and brightest of our generation.  I was surprised to read about his opening the door to torture.

Worst-case scenario

NY Daily News, Saturday, June 25th 2011

And on the other end–concerns rising within the US Army about “toxic leaders.”  Too many of them, perhaps greater in proportion at higher ranks.

Army Survey Raises Worries Over Damage Caused By ‘Toxic’ Leaders

Washington Post, June 26, 2011

Phi Beta Iota: We asked Col Stu Herrington, USA (Ret), Army counterintelligence officer/interrogator with successful interrogation experience in three wars, what he thought of the matter of General Patraeus opening the door on torture, and here is what he thinks–we have to concur.

Robert,  I just heard that General Petraeus has made a regrettable qualification of his no torture position while testifying.  Mind you, since his lack of operational intelligence experience is being overlooked as they prepare to confirm him the Director of the CIA, it is difficult to question his qualifications for opining on interrogation by pointing out that he is not and was never an intelligence officer, let alone a human intelligence/interrogator operative, .  Presumably, if they consider him qualified for that job, then he must be able to speak intelligently on the handling of sources, detainees, etc., right?

That having been said, it seems to me that the General’s specific mention of a possible exception to the “no torture” rule in the form of a classic “ticking time bomb” hypothetical shows how deeply this torture virus has penetrated our body politic, our leadership, and our thinking.  Even President Obama, as he pushed for his executive order forbidding torture, allowed wiggle room for such an exception.

For Petraeus and anyone else aspiring to leadership in our national security structure, it seems that acknowledging the possibility that one might have to brutalize a prisoner in the event of a (Hollywood-created, hypothetical) ticking time bomb scenario has become an article of faith.  After all, the way it is phrased is so seductive and compelling:  Evil doer knows specific details of a nuclear or other horrific disaster about to befall America, slaughtering thousands of innocents; time is of the essence, so why would anyone not apply brutality in such a case?  Why should such an evil doer’s right to humane treatment trump the imminent deaths of thousands?  Let’s face it.  Denying the advisability of keeping the door open for torture in such a situation—however hypothetical—has become the “third rail” in the debate, to be touched upon at one’s own risk.

Hang the fact that legions of professional interrogators have gone on record decrying such treatment as not only illegal and immoral, but inefficacious as well.   Would not our hypothetical fanatical evil doer, knowing that the infidels are going to lose Los Angeles within 48 hours if he maintains his secrets, tell his interrogators that the target is Philadelphia?  And if he in fact does not have a clue about the plot, despite his interrogator’s insistence that he does, would he not finger Miami anyway, just to get them to stop sticking the screwdriver into his shoulder joint?

General Petraeus’ brilliance in all other endeavors makes me strongly suspect that he surely must know that the ticking time bomb “exception” that he has tossed out is nonsense, a Hollywood hypothetical that has never happened, but he has echoed it because he sees it as politically expedient in order to: a)  Assure the significant number of members of Congress and their constituents who live in dread of such a scenario that Dave Petraeus would not sacrifice an American city by tying his field operators’ hands in such a situation, and b) To reassure a cadre of CIA operatives who went over the line during the Bush years that their new Director understands why they did so and will protect them.  Just my thoughts,  Stu

See Also:

Military Review Book Review:  KILL OR CAPTURE: How a Special Operaitons Task Force Took Down a Notorious Al Qaeda Terrorist

Amazon Page:  KILL OR CAPTURE: How a Special Operaitons Task Force Took Down a Notorious Al Qaeda Terrorist

Amazon Page:  The Fight for the High Ground: The US Army and Interrogation During Operation Iraqi Freedom May 2003-April 2004 (with a Foreword by Col Stu Herrington, USA (Ret))

Note:  Foreword above is a separate link to the verbatim transcript.

The Interrogation Perfect Storm” by Col Stuart Herrington, USA (Ret) at Fort Leavenworth Ethics Symposium, Command & Staff College online within Ethical and Legal Issues in Contemporary Conflict (CGSC Foundation Press, October 2009).

Review (DVD): Unthinkable

Bin Laden Show 55: Waterboarding for Morons

Exclusive: Private letter from CIA chief undercuts claim torture was key to killing Bin Laden

Books by Col Stuart Herrington, USA (Ret)

Traitors Among Us: Inside the Spy Catcher’s World

Silence Was a Weapon