Wednesday, November 25, 2009

CNN has Just Lost a Viewer for Life (Or: Why Does CNN Hate the Law and the Rights of Man?)

It has saddened me to watch the demise of the once wonderful CNN. Their coverage of hot spots around the world after their inception and through the mid-1990s was exceptional (granted, I was a young lad during this time). But it has been a downward slide in quality and utility for the once-mighty giant of cable news since then.

Case in point: Killings at the Canal. I'm guessing a few of you have seen this, or at least part of their "coverage." The basic story is that three sergeants shot and killed four Iraqi detainees in 2007 (by a canal! - it's important to get the alliteration or no one will watch!) because they claimed that the four were killing Coalition Forces but that U.S. detention policy at the time would have let these four alleged insurgents back onto the streets within days.

No, seriously. These guys shot four detainees because they were sure that the nefarious detention policy would have protected the bad guys. They actually said this in court and still believe it to this day (given some of the stuff on the linked site). They actually said they killed these four Iraqis, but, hold on Your Honor, we had a reason. No, I'm not making this up, go read it. I couldn't make this up.

Some of the statements or quotes from these guys are just factually wrong with regard to the nuts and bolts of the "policy" in question. I use quotes because it's not policy, it's law - the host nation's laws as well as U.S. law. Well, I guess these four Iraqis could have shot at soldiers the next day as the former sergeants allege. What's the rule of law when your boys' lives are at stake? To these guys, the rule of law was optional.

Forget COIN and "hearts and minds" - this goes beyond that. This is about U.S. soldiers who murdered detainees because they thought they were insurgents and didn't want to be bothered with the law. I should comment that I'm not saying these four Iraqis were or weren't insurgents who had killed or planned to kill American soldiers. I'm saying it is irrelevant here because the sergeants' actions subverted due process - something that we treasure here in the U.S. and must uphold when overseas. Otherwise, we're just as bad as Saddam was.

So back to CNN. Why on earth did they cover this so extensively? It was four murders out of many in the world on any given day. So what? The tone obviously takes the side of the former sergeants, which I find appalling, probably to incite discussion on this topic. And lord knows why because it seems pretty clear to me: uphold the law. I remember something about that in some oath I took at some point..... Anyway, I don't know if they are just trying to appear as patriotic as their rivals or they just think the incarceration of murderers who happen to be soldiers is bad policy. But it doesn't matter. They would jump all over any other country who let their soldiers do this. They should have just reported it and if they were going to err on the side of bias, it should have been towards the U.S. military for trying and convicting these murderers in spite of the bad press it would (and did) cause.

10 comments:

  1. Is this a reference to the Phoenix Program? If it is, then I'll agree there were ethical issues with that as well.

    And before lots of people (well, at least lots of our readers) get upset and mention that the US military targets and kills people, I say yes they do. But there is an evidential requirement of sorts with a serious attempt at making sure the right guy gets it. And there is a small army of lawyers who help adjudicate this. And yes, this process (and it is a process) could also be seen as unethical.

    The difference here is that three NCOs decided these guys were bad and killed them while they were protected detainees. They even say that they did it. That is murder. Like a lot of what apparently happened during Phoenix.

    Although, I guess this does raise the issue of the ethics of government use of violence against non-uniformed persons (of which this is not a legitimate case). Of course there are rules, but lots of grey areas exist as well. Must we use the "we'll know it when we see it" rule?

    Apologies for the verbosity - there are just so many facets and angles to this subject.

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  2. I'll throw this out there, just for the sake of discussion...

    "I'm saying it is irrelevant here because the sergeants' actions subverted due process - something that we treasure here in the U.S. and must uphold when overseas."

    I say it has nothing to do with due process. It has to do with ROE and LOAC. In 2007, we were repeatedly told that we could not set out on a mission with the purpose of killing. This was because, even though we were targeting known mid-level leaders of AQI, they were not legally a "declared hostile force." Our JAG nagged us about this a few dozen times over the period of the first few months in theater in '07 as he red-inked our CONOPs. Of course, killing on the OBJ once you start taking fire is fine and dandy and occurred often. But if some AQI "Emir" threw up his arms and didn't resist, he was getting zip-tied.

    Given the leeway that we had with detaining people on little to no grounds and the surprisingly little evidence necessary to convict in some courts, I don't think most Americans would recognize the procedures as anything resembling "due process." There was a safeguard resembling habeas, but other than that it was a process that could be administered arbitrarily and capriciously.

    "Otherwise, we're just as bad as Saddam was."

    I don't buy that either. The "otherwise" of which you speak is, has been, and will continue to be ongoing. Ask any unit that has had the joys of dealing with the fallout of black SOF doing a shoot-and-scoot in their AOR. (I guess, officially, such things never occur). I did see that you addressed this in your comment...
    "But there is an evidential requirement of sorts with a serious attempt at making sure the right guy gets it. And there is a small army of lawyers who help adjudicate this. And yes, this process (and it is a process) could also be seen as unethical."
    ... however, I think the fact that we have a process in place is irrelevant if that process royally sucks. Maybe it pays off sometimes. There were a lot of occasions when it was an "epic FAIL!" (I admit to having little inside information on the process - I only saw results. I also realize that OPSEC precludes a detailed rebuttal; if someone just chimes in that my assertion is BS, that seems to suffice as a rebuttal here in the public domain). Half the time, when I read something in the IZ media about Americans senselessly killing innocent people in the dead of night, I wasn't sure whether to reject it as a fabrication or as a halfway truthful recollection of a black SOF surprise gift to the battlespace owner.

    That said, even though we commit that "otherwise," we are not as bad as Saddam was - not even close. Saddam was a cold-blooded dictator whose butchery was primarily a self-serving policy intended to entrench himself in power and glorify his name. The difference is that we have pure intentions. I admit that difference is not one to take comfort in - road to Hell, and all that.

    I do agree that cable news (all channels) is garbage and the three NCOs are d-bags.

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  3. Lawfare Pushback here...

    Gunslinger,

    It's Thanksgiving, so I will moderate comments.

    1) The Law and War don't mix. Cicero had it right, so did our ancestors, who won wars. Of course, Cicero and most of them didn't go to Ivy League schools.

    2)Please refer to the oath you took to uphold the rule of Law on the Battlefield. I took an oath, maybe you are in fact a lawyer?
    Because it's not the same oath.

    3) The only murdering done was of our brave soldiers at the hands of these scum (oh, and lot's of Iraqis as well) while the Officers sat in the TOC and let JAG take over their units.

    4) The "Dirtbag" NCO's simply had the moral and physical courage to actually do their duty rather than hide behind JAG and the ROE skirts.
    Something our Officer Corps FAILED to do - out of moral cowardice, and the fear of prison. Be as pretentious as you like. The Officer Corps failed it's soldiers, country and yes the Iraqi's.

    5) The readership might be interested to know the detainee catch and release rate at the time was about 50% in 24 hours, and 85% within 6 months. Regardless of "evidence". That's before the summer of 2007 mass amnesty.

    The fact is it's no longer enough to be willing to risk death or injury. You have to be willing to risk betrayal and jail.

    Or learn to lie. Which most did. Doesn't bode well for the future.

    These men were brave enough to tell the ugly truth, for which they should be punished, and will be punished. Probably far more severely than the Rule of Lawyers metes out to the GITMO detainees.

    As far as CNN - they are gauging, probably correctly the mood of the people, who are only now learning the nonsense we were forced to labor under.

    You are caught in a pathology that allows you to rationalize away your failures and the tremendous and unnecessary cost borne by our soldiers because of it. And the Homeland, and the fools who trusted us.

    Anyone buying into this sanctimonious suicidal nonsense - Give us a Holiday present? Resign, do something else.

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  4. Here's your Rule of Lawyers in action in KSM trial, per Andrew McCarthy, who might know something about prosecuting terrorists...

    http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=MTc1NWQyYjdhYWQ2MWViNWI2OTc3YWRhYTBhNWNiNjc=&w=MA==

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  5. I mean, Andrew McCarthy defended waterboarding, so he's not my moral compass, personally.

    Nobody has the duty to kill detainees. If they're brave for admitting that they killed detainees, well, ok, I guess that's commendable. I'm still kind of confused on the deets, but I can't find any way killing detainees can be defensable. I can't emphasize enough: killing detainees is unequivocally morally reprehensible, no matter what Cicero said millenia ago.

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  6. elf -- I know how much you love this trope (you and Ralph Peters should get a road show!), but you're out of line.

    First of all, STFU about this "officers are losing the war" nonsense. We're not interested in your class warfare, and you're casting aspersions on a lot of good people (including Gunslinger). The dude spent a full 50% of his time in the Army deployed (and deployed with line units, let's be clear about that), worried about getting his ass shot off or blown up, so the least you could do is shut your pie-hole about sanctimony and elitism and all the rest.

    Now, to the "substance" of your argument...

    1) The Law and War don't mix. Cicero had it right, so did our ancestors, who won wars. Of course, Cicero and most of them didn't go to Ivy League schools.

    Yeah, yeah, "in a time of war, the law falls silent" and all that. (As an aside, does anyone else find it hilarious that elf is deriding Ivy League elitism while quoting from antiquity?) You know what else Cicero wrote? How about this one:

    "In a free hour, when our power of choice is untrammeled and when nothing prevents our being able to do what we like best, every pleasure is to be welcomed and every pain avoided. But in certain circumstances and owing to the claims of duty or the obligations of business it will frequently occur that pleasures have to be repudiated and annoyances accepted. The wise man therefore always holds in these matters to this principle of selection: he rejects pleasures to secure other greater pleasures, or else he endures pains to avoid worse pains."

    In certain circustances, you may have to accept the risk of being shot at by a guy you've released. (You may even have to accept the risk that the guy wasn't all that interested in shooting you before you arrested him, but now that you've pissed him off and let him go, you've made an enemy for life.) You know why? Because you do NOT want to live with the consequences of killing whoever you want to, whoever you've determined to be a bad guy, whoever you think might ever want to shoot you or blow you up.

    You seem to labor under the dramatic misimpression that all the bad people in the world can be put on a list, and if we just go down the list and cross out names, then everything will be cool. How you can still imagine that the world works this way is a mystery to me, and strikes me as intellectual and moral sloth: it's easier to think that there's a simple solution that just isn't being adopted than to consider that the world may be more difficult, that there IS no simple solution.

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  7. 2)Please refer to the oath you took to uphold the rule of Law on the Battlefield. I took an oath, maybe you are in fact a lawyer?
    Because it's not the same oath.


    He's probably referring to the oath he took to support and defend the Constitution, and the one you and these men took to obey the lawful orders of the officers appointed above you. Lawful order: do not murder detainees.

    The only murdering done was of our brave soldiers at the hands of these scum (oh, and lot's of Iraqis as well) while the Officers sat in the TOC and let JAG take over their units.

    4) The "Dirtbag" NCO's simply had the moral and physical courage to actually do their duty rather than hide behind JAG and the ROE skirts.
    Something our Officer Corps FAILED to do - out of moral cowardice, and the fear of prison. Be as pretentious as you like. The Officer Corps failed it's soldiers, country and yes the Iraqi's.


    Sorry, but this is fucking ludicrous. When you kill a captured enemy, you've violated the laws of war and you've committed murder in cold blood, whatever your intentions. These men admitted as much, they just argued that sometimes murder is justifiable if it helps spare you some difficulty. Is that the side of history you want to be on? (You don't have to answer, because I already have a pretty good idea.)

    "Their duty" is to commit murder? More specifically, to commit murder to avoid being inconvenienced, to make their jobs easier? To disobey the lawful orders of their command? To trample the laws of war and the expectations of the nation that sends them forth in defense of its people and its ideals?

    5) The readership might be interested to know the detainee catch and release rate at the time was about 50% in 24 hours, and 85% within 6 months. Regardless of "evidence". That's before the summer of 2007 mass amnesty.

    Has it ever occurred to you that a lot of those guys got picked up in sweeps that targeted all military-aged males? Has it occurred to you that not ever MAM is the enemy? Has it further occurred to you that the United States military has determined that the release of prisoners on whom there is not sufficient evidence to justify holding is good policy because it helps us win, and not because the leaders of the military and the nation are afraid of being sued or tried as war criminals or something?

    So I've got a better idea for you than coming over here and spilling your vitriol and excuses on our pages: explain to us how the murder of detainees serves the national security interest of the United States. Answers on a postcard, please.

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  8. Elf,

    Catch and release was due to units not collecting adequate evidence to put guys away. In 2007, one our battalion's "metrics" was the percentage of detainees whom we turned in who got convictions. Over 90% for us thru the fall of 07 - not sure what the average was in 07 for other units, or if anyone even kept track. Our Bn Cdr watched this closely and made a stink when one of our detainees didn't get convicted. He found out why and made sure that we accounted for that issue thereafter.

    Regarding your description of Officers - if that is what you saw in your unit, then you must have had a pretty shitty outfit. I think it's foolish to assume that every unit sucks just because yours did.

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  9. Nice Gunslinger. Share your sentiments.

    Curious, if these soldiers felt so strongly, could they communicate this to the right ISF (there many many ISF that "HATED" the resistance), and then push to transfer the prisoners to the ISF and let them take care of business?

    Or could they just allow the release these 4 suspects but somehow the ISF finds out their names and addresses and whatever happens happens?

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