Apropros of yesterday’s post on waterboarding, here’s another take on the role of torture in contemporary warfare.

H/t to Tom Ricks of the Best Defence blog for flagging this excellent piece on ethics and combat by a junior US Army officer, based on his recent experience in Afghanistan.

Kevin Bell argues that ethics can’t be left to chaplains as subject matter experts because nobody else needs to know about it. He argues that because of the stresses that junior officers will feel in a counter-insurgency environment where the enemy is largely unknown, the temptation to resort to torture as interrogation will be huge because of anger and the desire for revenge will be enormous.

“Reasonable people can disagree about the best arguments for and against torture. For us as soldiers, though, these claims are beside the point. We are required by duty and honor to uphold our country’s statutory and treaty obligations, which state that torture is categorically unacceptable. To better fulfill this duty we have to do more to confront the ethical dilemmas of our profession before we go to war. It isn’t enough to know the rules if we are still unsure in a time of weakness what to do with detainees who might have tactically useful information. Our training
and leadership culture have to reinforce our understanding that the ethical treatment of prisoners doesn’t undermine the counterinsurgency strategy.”

Whole article here. A must read for army officers.

0 Responses

  1. Well Padre, for what it's worth here are some thoughts of a vet of asymmetrical conflict.

    Laws and doctrines can only be guidelines. The job of teaching ethics is the responsibility of the home and society from an early age.

    There once was a military system that tested the character of potential leaders. The idea was that those of desirable character, even if uneducated, could be taught what they needed to know but it was beyond the ability of the military to build character in those lacking it no matter how educated.

    By the time a person is in their early teens ethics should be well developed. No one is perfect but the leader in the article exhibited very admirable character in a stressful situation. It was an extremely personal dilemma but I believe that his decisions will be something that in future he will find personally right.

    Revenge can give short term satisfaction but long term agony.