Monday, May 16, 2005

The Flat World and GITMO (UPDATED) (UPDATED)

Riots in Afghanistan. (Associated Press)

2nd Update: So it seems that Newsweek really shit the bed on this one, and my brothers and sisters in the mil-blogosphere are all over it and rightfully so. However, in our rush to condemn Newsweek, let's not loose the bubble on the entire story. The fact remains that GITMO is an albatross around our country's neck. It pisses off our allies and enflames the Islamic World.

Of course, GITMO was the best of a bunch of bad solutions for the AQ/TB detainee problem. But, we're three years into this, and it seems that our current approach is creating more problems than it is solving.

Newsweek may have sparked the fire, but we created the tinderbox. It was only a matter of time before something like this happened, and if we want to win, we must mitigate this in the future.

How? More transparency on GITMO. Adherence to the spirit as well as the letter of the Geneva Convention. And a final resolution as to what we are going to do with the enemy combatants. Some of these guys are hard core assholes. Lock 'em up and throw away the key. But, let's get the ball rolling and make a determination. Let's do justice.

Until then, we can expect more of this.

Update: Newsweek apologizes for Quran story, says report that sparked deadly protests contained errors.

Oh great, so mistakes were made. So which is it? Bad things at GITMO or bad reporting? This makes it too easy to focus the story on the media and not have a discussion about what we are doing in GITMO--good or bad.

More from the CS Monitor. Excellent as always.

Original Post:

There are reports all over the media of some nasty riots in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. The riot started as a protest organized by the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a coalition a religious parties and organizations. The protests were staged in response to alleged desecration on the Koran by US soldiers in GITMO. The web page of MMA affiliated Jamaat-e-Islami out of Pakistan has this to say about it:

KARACHI, May 10: Protest day will be observed on May 13 across the country under the aegis of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal to condemn the desecration of the Holy Quran, inhuman treatment with prisoners in Guantánamo Bay prison, and the publication of a derogatory cartoon in the Washington Times about Pakistan.

How does the environmentalist saying go? Think Global, Act Local. Welcome to Thomas Friedman's flat word.

This is apparently the catalyst of the protests:

"The demonstrations began Tuesday, when protesters burned an effigy of President Bush over a report in Newsweek magazine that interrogators at Guantanamo Bay placed Qurans on toilets to rattle suspects, and in at least one case flushed a holy book down the toilet."

I don't know too much about what goes on down in GITMO, and even if I did, obviously I wouldn't talk about it here. But, I can picture some clever MI soldier doing this.

Notice how I use the word clever. There are lots of clever kids in MI, and I can see how if you knew a little about Muslim culture, you'd know that this might be an effective tactic to rattle someone enough to get them to talk--a clever tactic but bad strategy. An educated versus a clever soldier can understand the difference.

Now, I'm not claiming that I'm clever, educated, or an expert on any kind of culture including my own. But, the benefit of hindsight tells me that we've provided ammunition for MMA's information operations campaign. This alliance is not on our side, and is looking for any misstep to exploit. A riot yielding four dead Afghanis is even better.

Military Doctrine defines the "area of influence" as "A geographical area wherein a commander is directly capable of influencing operations by maneuver or fire support systems normally under the commander's command or control."

I've had some discussions with "doctrine Nazis"over exactly what that term means. Young guys are not afraid to call the AOI a country, a region, or even the globe. Old guys stick with the defitnition in the context of the pre-Sept 11th world for which it was written.

As an Army, we are still wrapping our minds around our role in the flat world. I've had very little formal instruction on the my role in an Army with global influence. So I can understand using an interrogation tactic that seems smart at the time but turns out to be a bad idea. Of course, its not a bad idea if it yields some bad ass piece of intel. I'd flush a whole pile of books down the toilet if it brought me UBL's head on a pike. Apparently that hasn't been the case.

In the Army, we have to do a risk assessment and a safety briefing for everything. Are we doing risk assessments on interrogations tactics? We may or may not keep these guys in GITMO forever. Are we prepared to accept risk for our actions once they are released and word gets out?

Transformation is going to make us lighter, faster, and more global. It had better make us smarter and more culturally adept. Or we had better get issued riot control gear.

Note: There is an interesting article in this month's Atlantic that offers and interesting counter-point to all this:

"Six months before the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison broke into public view, a small and fairly obscure private association of United States Marine Corps members posted on its Web site a document on how to get enemy POWs to talk.

The document described a situation very similar to the one the United States faces in the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan: a fanatical and implacable enemy, intense pressure to achieve quick results, a brutal war in which the old rules no longer seem to apply.

Marine Major Sherwood F. Moran, the report's author, noted that despite the complexities and difficulties of dealing with an enemy from such a hostile and alien culture, some American interrogators consistently managed to extract useful information from prisoners. The successful interrogators all had one thing in common in the way they approached their subjects. They were nice to them."

Follow this link link to the Marine Corps Interrogator Translator Teams Association that published the info quoted in the Article.


At May 12, 2005, Blogger J. said...

The Afghanis read the Wash Times? How sad for them.

good post - love the shot on Doctrine Nazis - it's so true, once it's in print, some people treat it like the bible. But you read alot of doctrine, some of it is so poorly written. Crazy.

At May 12, 2005, Anonymous Bill Badger said...

Kris -

Poorly reported in the US press, somewhat better in the BBC:

COL Thomas Pappas (Cdr, 205th MI Bde) was punished under Article 15, UCMJ for his derelict leadership of the MI soldiers at Abu Gharib.

BG Janis Karpinski was demoted to COL. As I recall, demotion of a commissioned officer can only be done by the civilian leadership. Somewhere between the Secretary of the Army and the President.

Still cleaning up the mess from that fiasco...


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