The Generals Speak Out on Torture | Harper's Magazine

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The Generals Speak Out on Torture

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I think if you took a poll among retired senior military for the names of the most admired retired generals in the nation, two Marines – Charlie Krulak and Joe Hoar – would land right at the top of the list. And today they have collaborated to write an op-ed which dismisses the insane gibberish put out by the Republicans at their very unpresidential debate in South Carolina and by George Tenet in his book tour.

As has happened with every other nation that has tried to engage in a little bit of torture — only for the toughest cases, only when nothing else works — the abuse spread like wildfire, and every captured prisoner became the key to defusing a potential ticking time bomb. Our soldiers in Iraq confront real “ticking time bomb” situations every day, in the form of improvised explosive devices, and any degree of “flexibility” about torture at the top drops down the chain of command like a stone — the rare exception fast becoming the rule.

To understand the impact this has had on the ground, look at the military’s mental health assessment report released earlier this month. The study shows a disturbing level of tolerance for abuse of prisoners in some situations. This underscores what we know as military professionals: Complex situational ethics cannot be applied during the stress of combat. The rules must be firm and absolute; if torture is broached as a possibility, it will become a reality. This has had disastrous consequences. Revelations of abuse feed what the Army’s new counterinsurgency manual, which was drafted under the command of Gen. David Petraeus, calls the “recuperative power” of the terrorist enemy . . .

The torture methods that Tenet defends have nurtured the recuperative power of the enemy. This war will be won or lost not on the battlefield but in the minds of potential supporters who have not yet thrown in their lot with the enemy. If we forfeit our values by signaling that they are negotiable in situations of grave or imminent danger, we drive those undecideds into the arms of the enemy. This way lies defeat, and we are well down the road to it . . .

It is time for us to remember who we are and approach this enemy with energy, judgment and confidence that we will prevail. That is the path to security, and back to ourselves.

Our “torture heroes” from Rudi Giuliani to Dick Cheney have one thing in common: when their country called them to military service, they had “more important things to do.” And the contempt for the uniformed military that this conduct bespeaks is reflected in their embrace of torture. It’s un-American. And criminal.

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