Abu Ghraib and the torture of our enemies no longer light up cable news with that mind numbing repetition of perp walks and stacked nude bodies. The military, we are assured, is taking care of the problem and the slate will be wiped clean once again for a little while. The enlisted kids being punished now and in the future will take the rap for "getting caught." The career officers will escape accountability, just as they did in Vietnam over 30 years ago.
The military had to be reborn after Vietnam, but the job was only partially done. We never came to terms with the Tiger Cages we ran where over 9,000 prisoners were tortured by the South Vietnamese police. A Time poll revealed that 80% of respondents did not even want to know about such things. The same must be true about Abu Ghraib.
The military needed then and still needs today, a genuine code of honor without winks and nods. After all these years I still wonder what became of the practice of taking Viet Cong prisoners up in helicopters for "interrogation." Do we still do it today with the enemy of choice?
What would Alberto Gonzales or Condi Rice think of threatening to throw VC out of helicopters for not spilling their guts? Would that be covered by the Geneva Convention; could the VC be considered illegal combatants, not playing by the rules of war and not dressing in a properly identifiable military garb? The ruling might be that the Geneva Convention does not apply to air born torture. It is not far fetched to suggest that the Abu Ghraib syndrome was, perhaps, born in Viet Nam.
But what if the drop was only 5-10 feet? Would that be torture if you were blind folded.?
(All I remember is being on the bed of a Huey Helicopter with guys with U.S. insignia Brass on their shirts. The VC had a bag over his head. The interpreter kept threatening to throw the bastard over the side if he didn't talk. The guy really started to stink. He wasn't going to talk. The guy in charge said to head back to base)
The nice thing about wearing U.S. brass insignia is that they replace rank and branch--you're a spook. You could be taken for a private but with the possibility of being a colonel. I was the II Corps Project Officer for" Duffelbag" in 1970, the Army version of Igloo White.
One of the important rules at Ft. Benning's school to train young boys to be infantry officers used to be," get the task done and don't quibble if you fail." You are sternly warned about breaking the rules then given an assignment that can only be accomplished by breaking some rule, particularly, do not leave the base to procure some item that can only be found off base. Translation: "Don't get caught."
When the Commander gets on the phone and says, "Do whatever it takes", it will get done. "Do it but don't get caught" (no cameras allowed). Maybe that has all changed, but I don't think so. The evidence suggests it has not. In fact, all the evidence lies in the other direction
After 9/11/01 there was endless banter about the lack of intelligence. The Bush administration left no doubt that the goal was to take out the enemy before they could attack us. Was there doubt in anyone's mind that gathering human intelligence was the number one priority throughout government? And there were not any limiting conditions placed on this quest. The American people would not suffer one hangnail from the bogeymen terrorists. They were to be tortured and killed before they could harm any American
What this led to was the ongoing torture of an entire country, Iraq.
We were reviled when we returned from Vietnam, not because of war crimes but because of the loss of a war for the first time in our history. America despises losers and would rather not know about war crimes. In reality, only losers resort to war crimes. We lost in Vietnam and we have lost the war in Iraq. You can't spin it any other way.
Robert Gaiek left the military a Captain and is the recipient of a Purple Heart, Air Medal and Bronze Star with clusters and now owns a small business.
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