The U.S. treatment of war prisoners

There is an accurate method of determining whether the verbal communications of U.S. government or military leaders are honest and accurate regarding American treatment of war prisoners. If their lips are moving, the generals, the President, the Secretary of Defense are likely to be deceiving the public and the world, if not lying outright.

We have been told that the U.S. treats its prisoners “humanely”. And this is not an outright lie. In many cases in the Iraqi war, this is true. But it is not an honest assessment, either. And there are good political and military reasons for the differences in treatment of prisoners of war in various theaters and operations and situations.

The key to American treatment of prisoners is at least two-fold. First, the issue of risk posed by that prisoner or group of prisoners to the military effort and immediate security of the United States is a key to their treatment. A second consideration is how the treatment of those prisoners can be used for political purposes to demonstrate fairness of the Americans for their prisoners and thus win the good will of the world at large (and impress the American public. In no case can we say that the U.S. treats prisoners well solely for altruistic purposes.

So, let’s take a closer look at these considerations. In Iraq, clearly the U.S. power structure and military leadership started the war with a very low assessment of Iraq’s military prowess, willingness to fight, or ability to fight. Clearly, the U.S. leadership envisioned a similar result as occurred in the Gulf War, in which Iraqi troops surrendered their positions, their arms and their persons in mass numbers with very little willingness to fight. Clearly, the U.S. leadership believed going into the invasion of Iraq that Iraq’s military posed only a small risk to the security of the U.S. military and no strategic risk to the security of the American homeland. Clearly, the U.S. military leadership expected a relatively quick and painless victory. With such a mentality on the part of U.S. leadership, it would be easy and a great public relations bonanza to graciously accept the surrender of Iraqi forces, treat those people well, provide access to those prisoners by the Red Cross, and use them as pawns in the public relations effort that is an integral part to any and every American policy and action (and which is true of Iraq and other nations’ leaders as well).

In contrast, if Iraqi soldiers or civilian combatants were captured in the War on Terrorism, as Saudis, Yemenis, Pakistanis, or even American muslims have been, a wholly different dynamic of treatment comes into play. In the War of Terrorism, the U.S. security apparatus is clearly highly concerned about every single tactic, every single operation, every single person, every single threat of the “terrorist” networks. So, the treatment of prisoners no longer can be described as humane. Unless you call denial of treatment for serious wounds and illnesses humane. Unless you call keeping prisoners awake and disoriented for extended periods of time humane. Unless you call denial of food and water for extended periods humane. Unless you call exposure to extremely loud noise for long periods humane, or confinement in total darkness and cold for extended periods of time humane. Unless you call confinement in rooms bombarded with intense light and/or noise humane.

The U.S. claims not to torture their prisoners, though if someone took the child of an American interrogator and exposed them to similar treatment, the word “torture” might be used in the resultant prosecution of the perpetrator. But the U.S. has also been known to turn over its prisoners to allied nations with even a lower set of scruples and willingness to use even more sadistic physical torture regimes.

What will happen if the Iraq war continues and the U.S. assessment of the threat of the Iraqi military changes. What will happen if chemical weapons are found or deployed by the Iraqis. What would happen if Iraqi officers or senior officers and officials were captured by U.S. Special Forces, for instance? We would have every reason to believe that the U.S. would forget its fairness and humaneness doctrine for Iraqi prisoners. All available means (as described above from the War on Terror) would likely be used to extract information from Iraqi prisoners, particularly ones who were thought to possess strategic or tactical knowledge of Iraqi operations, plans and methods of carrying out those plans.

So, when Bush or Rumsfeld speaks of U.S. treatment of its prisoners, be aware that the treatment regime is as flexible as any other U.S. policy. Humaneness is never an end objective for the U.S. military. It can be a means to an end. If humanness does not get the job done, clearly humanness is quickly abandoned and other tactics are used, and laws, conventions, and treaties are treated as if they did not exist.

The writer is a member of several falconry and ornithological clubs and organizations. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from California, USA.