Thursday, May 24, 2007

Collecting Intelligence Morals 101

The President has been very noisy of late about the moral imperative driving his thought process in the war in Iraq, and the so called war on terror in general. Having the President hang his logic on morality even as people die by the thousands due to a needless war in Iraq seems a little hollow from my perspective. But the President has to go there in order to sleep at night, so I would like to examine an aspect of our morality as shown by the issue of gays being discharged, and the negative impact of don't ask don't tell on our military's ability to collect intelligence.

The A.P. reports that three Arabic translators have recently been discharged from the military for being gay. This brings to 58 the number of translators who have been discharged from the military under don't ask don't tell. Yet with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan stretching on, Arabic translators are desperately needed by our military. An example of the value of the interpreters to their units is the case of Ian Finkenbinder as described by Nathaniel Frank in the New Republic.
When Ian Finkenbinder served an eight-month combat tour with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq in 2003, he was tasked with human intelligence-gathering, one of the most critical ingredients in the Army's effort to battle the deadly Iraqi insurgency. It is also essential to the U.S. goal of winning support from the Iraqi street. Finkenbinder's job as a cryptologic linguist was to translate radio transmissions, to interview Iraqi citizens who had information to volunteer, and to screen native speakers for possible employment in translation units.

Finkenbinder was a rare and coveted commodity. Having attended the Army's elite Defense Language Institute (DLI) at the Presidio of Monterey, he graduated in the fall of 2002 with proficiency in Arabic at a time when the United States was scrambling to remedy a dire shortage of linguists specializing in Arabic, Farsi, and other tongues critical to the war on terrorism.

So it's not surprising that, according to Finkenbinder, his company commander was "distraught" last month at the prospect of having to start discharge proceedings against him just before the 3rd Infantry, which spearheaded the Iraqi invasion with its "thunder run" to Baghdad, was scheduled to redeploy for a second tour. But he had no choice. The Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gay troops makes no exceptions for linguists, and Finkenbinder had revealed he is gay.
It occurs to me in reading this description that there are many ways of gathering intelligence. One way is to have a person in a unit who can communicate with the locals and interpret local radio traffic. Another way is to sweep through a neighborhood, take all the suspicious looking people to Abu Ghraib, stack them in naked pyramids and sic dogs on them until they tell you what you want to hear. Or you can also stick the detainee in a sleeping bag face first and beat them to a pulp, but getting dead people to tell you the goods is nigh on impossible.

Now I understand that administration koolaid drinking toadies (and if I'm really lucky the Pentagon office set up to respond to blog posts about the military) will posit that what I'm describing are the actions of a few bad apples, and that hundreds of people have been prosecuted for crossing the line and torturing detainees. The fact is that General Paul Kern, who was tasked with investigating the Abu Ghraib scandal wrote an op ed for the Washington Post, which ran in yesterdays edition, in which he says:
As the investigator of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib prison, I confronted the outcome of current interrogation policies.
The General is clear about this. The current interrogation policies led to Abu Ghraib... not some past incongruities and mistaken impressions passed on to bad apples. If anything, the tremendous increase in prosecutions of service members for torturing detainees is emblematic of systemic disregard for the Geneva conventions. This flood of cases actually demonstrates the pervasiveness of the problem. The Geneva conventions have been rendered moot while the civilian leadership of the military have bent over backwards to allow for torture while calling it "enhanced interrogation". Notice I carefully deliniated the support for these techniques as coming from the civilian leadership, because the military leaders that have let their opinions on the issue be known are nearly uniformly opposed to the position taken by the President.

Yet thanks to the warped priorities forwarded by this administration, the interpreters who can help us understand the Iraqi's living with our occupation are routinely booted from the service for being attracted to members of the same gender, even as Bush legalized the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" by signing the military commissions bill. How sad is it that if someone crosses the line (whatever that is) in torturing prisoners, the most effective way to end the barbarity would be to accuse the transgressor of being gay!

This hangup with the military on service members being gay, even as we allow torture in the laws which govern the collection of intelligence, is a sad reflection of twisted morality. The military would be ok recruiting the Marqius De Sade but would not be ok recruiting Ellen DeGeneres. What kind of twisted morality has brought us to that pass?

But who cares as long as the commander in chief can drawl on and on with his take on the morality of the war and he sleeps well at night...

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