This is the third post in a series about some ways in which our Long War is changing us.
1. How will the Long War affect America? Will it make us stronger or weaker? Crazy? Unleash our dark side?
2. Why we fight. Causes of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
4. Bloodlust – a natural by-product of a long war?
One subterranean meme among war-bloggers is the killing of prisoners. It’s nothing new among soldiers at war (see this example). But it has appeared in public, something extraordinary for America (but not, of course in other nations now or in the past). Will this be like torture — something we condemn in others, than embrace as a useful tool?
- Ralph Peters interviewed by Neil Cavuto, sometime in late May 2009, Fox News (source)
- About those terrorists held at Guantánamo Bay
- A note from our past about the wisdom of executing prisoners
- For more information
Esp note section 3, a reminder that in the past we have hung those who killed US troops as POWs. Rightly so.
(1) Ralph Peters advocates war crimes
An interview by Neil Cavuto, sometime in late May 2009, Fox News (source). What a sad nation we’ve become, when advocating war crimes does not damage one’s career as a military expert for a major network. What will we become after another 7 years of warfare?
Peters: First of all, I am not concerned about the human and legal rights of terrorists. Because as far as I am concerned, when a human being chooses to commit an act of terror against innocent human beings, he puts himself outside of humanity. And this obsession with the legal — supposed legal and human rights of terrorists — a small number — condemns billions of human beings, billions, to live in fear.
And again, Neil, once you commit an act of terror, in my book, you are outside, you are anathema, and you should be killed.
Now, I’m not talking about killing every living thing in the barnyard. But for example, when we attack an Al Qaeda compound, and the people defending the Al Qaeda compound can — and they’re shooting at us, that’s probably a pretty good indicator that they are terrorists. So I see no reason to bring them to the United States, no reason to bring them to Guantanamo. There are a small number of senior terrorists who have intelligence value. Them we should take prisoner, but we should do the interrogations in foreign countries — and why set ourselves up for legal problems?
Now Neil, I know it’s not politically correct. I don’t care. I care about the security and well-being of my fellow Americans. I care about the human rights of innocent people around the world. And as far as I’m concerned, terrorists should die.
And a good thing that’s happening now — as soon as you had this movement to close Guantanamo, et cetera et cetera, the word I’m getting from the field is our special operators and our soldiers and Marines on the front lines are taking fewer prisoners.
Cavuto: All right, so in other words, they’re killing them.
Peters: We’re dealing with people who aren’t human anymore. They’re monsters. And just like in the movies, monsters deserve to die. And we agonize over this.
Cavuto: I see your point about what we agonize over. But what if all the 200 or so Gitmo detainees are not monsters — some were just caught up in a roundup where they weren’t doing anything wrong. Now, I don’t have the details or the who’s who on who might fill that equation here, but you know what I mean, that, that — then you would be wiping them all out.
Peters: Well, there will be miscarriages of justice in a brutal war like this. But I don’t think too many. We’re pretty good at figuring out who’s right and who’s wrong.
This is one step beyond his previous advice of “DON’T CATCH – KILL” in the New York Post on 24 June 2008:
A dead terrorist is a good terrorist. Keeps costs down, too. To be clear: I do not advocate executing prisoners. We should treat any terrorist we capture rigorously, but with basic decency. … But it is my belief that our conventional military and special-operations efforts should emphasize killing terrorists on the battlefield or in their lairs – conditions where it is entirely legal to do so.
In their “lairs”? This is his nod to reality, since few insurgents are killed in battle. He wants bombing of homes and other buildings — where everyone killed can be declared an enemy. Pretty much what we do today.
About Ralph Peters
Peters has published extensively in the professional military literature, and made many powerful and brilliant contributions. He is a retired U.S. Army officer, a strategist, an author, a journalist who has reported from various war zones, and a lifelong traveler. He is the author of 24 books, including Looking for Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World and the forthcoming The War after Armageddon, a novel set in the Levant after the nuclear destruction of Israel.
(2) About those terrorists held at Guantánamo Bay
Peters appears certain they are all bad guys, who should be shot — and if that’s a miscarriage of justice, no big deal. The evidence suggests that perhaps he’s the monster, and some fraction (perhaps a large one) are not. There are dozens of articles like the following, and perhaps far more similar evidence locked away in US government files.
(a) “U.S. Said to Overstate Value of Guantanamo Detainees“, New York Times, 21 June 2004 — Excerpt:
For nearly two and a half years, American officials have maintained that locked within the steel-mesh cells of the military prison here are some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists — ”the worst of a very bad lot,” Vice President Dick Cheney has called them.
… But as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on the legal status of the 595 men imprisoned here, an examination by The New York Times has found that government and military officials have repeatedly exaggerated both the danger the detainees posed and the intelligence they have provided.
In interviews, dozens of high-level military, intelligence and law-enforcement officials in the United States, Europe and the Middle East said that contrary to the repeated assertions of senior administration officials, none of the detainees at the United States Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay ranked as leaders or senior operatives of Al Qaeda. They said only a relative handful — some put the number at about a dozen, others more than two dozen — were sworn Qaeda members or other militants able to elucidate the organization’s inner workings.
… In September 2002, 8 months after the detainees began to arrive in Cuba, a top-secret study by the Central Intelligence Agency raised questions about their significance, suggesting that many of the accused terrorists appeared to be low-level recruits who went to Afghanistan to support the Taliban or even innocent men swept up in the chaos of the war, current and former officials who read the assessment said.
(b) “Guantanamo detainees say Arabs, Muslims sold for U.S. bounties“, AP, 31 May 2005 — Excerpt:
They fed them well. The Pakistani tribesmen slaughtered a sheep in honor of their guests, Arabs and Chinese Muslims famished from fleeing U.S. bombing in the Afghan mountains. But their hosts had ulterior motives: to sell them to the Americans, said the men who are now prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
Bounties ranged from $3,000 to $25,000, the detainees testified during military tribunals, according to transcripts the U.S. government gave The Associated Press to comply with a Freedom of Information lawsuit.
A former CIA intelligence officer who helped lead the search for Osama bin Laden told AP the accounts sounded legitimate because U.S. allies regularly got money to help catch Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. Gary Schroen said he took a suitcase of $3 million in cash into Afghanistan himself to help supply and win over warlords to fight for U.S. Special Forces.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if we paid rewards,” said Schroen, who retired after 32 years in the CIA soon after the fall of Kabul in late 2001. He recently published the book First In: An Insider’s Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan.
… The U.S. departments of Defense, Justice and State and the Central Intelligence Agency also said they were unaware of bounty payments being made for random prisoners.
… In March 2002, the AP reported that Afghan intelligence offered rewards for the capture of al-Qaeda fighters — the day after a five-hour meeting with U.S. Special Forces. Intelligence officers refused to say if the two events were linked and if the United States was paying the offered reward of 150 million Afghanis, then equivalent to $4,000 a head.
That day, leaflets and loudspeaker announcements promised “the big prize” to those who turned in al-Qaeda fighters.
Said one leaflet: “You can receive millions of dollars. … This is enough to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life — pay for livestock and doctors and school books and housing for all your people.”
Helicopters broadcast similar announcements over the Afghan mountains, enticing people to “Hand over the Arabs and feed your families for a lifetime,” said Najeeb al-Nauimi, a former Qatar justice minister and leader of a group of Arab lawyers representing nearly 100 detainees.
(c) “America’s prison for terrorists often held the wrong men“, McClatchy Newspapers, 15 June 2008 — Part one of a series. Excerpt:
Akhtiar was among the more than 770 terrorism suspects imprisoned at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They are the men the Bush administration described as “the worst of the worst.”
But Akhtiar was no terrorist. American troops had dragged him out of his Afghanistan home in 2003 and held him in Guantanamo for three years in the belief that he was an insurgent involved in rocket attacks on U.S. forces. The Islamic radicals in Guantanamo’s Camp Four who hissed “infidel” and spat at Akhtiar, however, knew something his captors didn’t: The U.S. government had the wrong guy.
“He was not an enemy of the government, he was a friend of the government,” a senior Afghan intelligence officer told McClatchy. Akhtiar was imprisoned at Guantanamo on the basis of false information that local anti-government insurgents fed to U.S. troops, he said.
An eight-month McClatchy investigation in 11 countries on three continents has found that Akhtiar was one of dozens of men — and, according to several officials, perhaps hundreds — whom the U.S. has wrongfully imprisoned in Afghanistan, Cuba and elsewhere on the basis of flimsy or fabricated evidence, old personal scores or bounty payments.
(3) A note from our past about the wisdom of executing prisoners
Our past has many honorable moments, but these create standards against which our future action can and should be measured. How would the judges of the post-WWII US military commissions reply to Ralph Peters recommendations?
(a) An excerpt from Call to Arms, a novel by W. E. B. Griffin, a follow-up to his account of the raid on Makin Island by US Marines on 17 August 1942 (see Wikipedia for more). I have not found this document, but the following is in accord with secondary sources I have found.
Griffin gives an excerpt from Proceedings of a Military Commission, Files 149234-150837, held under the authority of the Commander of the Marianas Islands, convened on 16 April 1946. The accused were Vice Admiral Koso Abe, Captain Yoshio Obara, and Lieutenant Commander Hisakichi Naiki, all of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
Early in October, a Lieutenant Commander Okada, who was a staff officer of the Central Japanese Headquarters, visited Kwajalein in connection with an inspection of Japanese defense fortifications. While he was there, Vice Admiral Abe, Kwajalein commander, solicited Commander Okada’s assistance in securing transportation to Japan of nine prisoners of war, Marine enlisted men who had been captured following the Makin Island operation and brought to Kwajalein. The Imperial Japanese Navy had been unable, or unwilling, so far to divert a vessel to transport the prisoners. Commander Okada replied to Vice Admiral Abe that “from now on, it would not be necessary to transport prisoners to Japan; from now on, they would be disposed of on the island [Kwajalein]” or words to that effect.
On October 11, 1942, Vice Admiral Abe delegated the responsibility of disposing of the prisoners to the Commanding Officer, 61st Naval Guard Unit, Imperial Japanese Navy, Captain Yoshio Obara, IJN, a career naval officer and a 1915 graduate of the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy. The Marine prisoners of war were then being held by the 61st Naval Guard unit. Vice Admiral Abe’s orders to Captain Obara specified that the executioners, as a matter of courtesy to the prisoners of war, hold the grade of warrant officer or above. There was a pool of approximately forty warrant officers (in addition to officers of senior grade), none of whom was initially willing to volunteer for the duty. When prevailed upon by Captain Obara and Lieutenant Commander Naiki, however, three warrant officers stepped forward, as did an enlisted man, who would serve as “pistoleer.”
Lieutenant Commander Naiki proposed to dispose of the Marine prisoners on October 16, which was the Yasakuni Shrine Festival, a Japanese holiday honoring departed heroes. This proposal received the concurrence of Captain Obara and Vice Admiral Abe. A site was selected and prepared on the southwestern part of the island. Captain Obara ordered that the evening meal of October 15, 1942 for the prisoners include beer and sweet cakes.
On October 16, the Marine prisoners were blindfolded and had their hands tied behind them. They were moved from their place of confinement to a holding area near the disposal site and held there until Vice Admiral Abe and Captain Obara arrived, in full dress uniform, by car from activities in connection with the Yasakuni Shrine Festival. The Marine prisoners were then led one at a time to the edge of a pit dug for the purpose, and placed in a kneeling position. Then they were beheaded by one or another of the three warrant officers — using swords, according to Japanese Naval tradition. The services of the pistoleer, who would have fired a bullet into their heads should there not be a complete severance of head from torso, were not required.
A prayer for the souls of the departed was offered, under the direction of Vice Admiral Abe, who then left. A woven fiber mat was placed over the bodies, and the pit filled in. Additional prayers were offered, and then the disposal party was marched off.
On 19 June 1947, Lieutenant Colonel George W. Newton, USMC, Provost Marshal of Guam, reported to the Commandant of the Marine Corps that, in accordance with the sentence handed down by the Military Commission, Vice Admiral Abe, Captain Obara, and Lieutenant Commander Naiki, late of the Imperial Japanese Navy, had that day been, by First Lieutenant Charles C. Rexroad, USA, hanged by the neck until they were dead.
(b) Members of the Marine Raiders, Second Battalion, executed on Makin atoll on 16 October 1942:
- Robert V. Allard, Sgt., USMCR, Company B, Navy Cross
- Dallas H. Cook, Sgt., USMC, Company B, Navy Cross
- Joseph Gifford, Cpl., USMC, Company B
- Richard E. Davis, PFC, USMC Company A
- Richard N. Olbert, PFC, USMCR Company B, Navy Cross
- William E. Pallesen, PFC, USMC, Company B
- John I. Kerns, Pvt, USMCR Company A, Navy Cross
- Alden O. Mattison, Pvt., USMCR Company A
- Donald R. Robertson, Pvt., USMC Company B, Navy Cross
(c) About Imperial Japan and the Geneva Convention
For more about the Makin Island Raid see Appendix A (Marine POWs) of Volume V in the History of U.S. Marine Corps operations in World War II, by the United States Marine Corps (available here). Esp note footnote 33:
The Geneva Convention of 1929 was ratified by the United States on 16 January 1932, and by other countries before and after this date. Although not one of the states which had ratified this code before the war, Japan informed the Swiss Government in February 1942 that it “is strictly observing Red Cross Convention as a signatory state” and while it didn’t consider itself bound by the Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war, it would apply “provisions of that Convention to American prisoners of war in its power.” U.S. Diplomatic Papers, 1942, p. 382.
A review of the depositions taken for, the testimony given at, and findings of the court of numerous trials of the Far East War Crimes Tribunal indicate that Japanese officials in charge of prisoner of war activities observed neither the spirit nor the letter of any of the articles of this treaty.
(4) For more information from the FM site
To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp interest these days:
Posts about torture:
- Something every American should read, 25 March 2009
- So many Americans approve of torture; what does this tell us about America?, 30 April 2009
- We close our eyes to torture by our government. The Brits are stronger., 9 April 2009
- Dispatches from the front lines in the war for America’s soul, 11 May 2009
- Quote of the Day, 20 May 2009