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Friday, September 15, 2006

former military and intelligence intelligence

in recent months, i’ve had a strange series of alice-in-wonderland experiences with people who, at one time or another served this country in one capacity or another. a few veterans and a few civilians, people from various economic backgrounds, and people from various political backgrounds. this morning, i’m compelled to put something in writing.

one thing that surprises me in conversations with several people who actually served in the united states intelligence apparatus at various times in their past, is that a good number of them support the bush administration.

i believe that the people working in these various agencies and offices are trying, very hard, to do very important work to preserve what i consider a valuable way of life. and i also believe that any government will use any capability it can use in pursuit of its goals. which is one reason i also believe in the wisdom of the constitution and the separation of powers. that was, for a large portion of american history, a conservative position.

so, i have to ask the question: given the bush administration’s track record of abusing and sacrificing the intelligence community and military for short-term political gain and personal agendas, how is it possible for anyone who has actually worked in the military or intelligence community to support this administration without reservation? how is it possible for these people who have dedicated entire careers and risked their own and others’ lives to preserve american values and liberties to accept that those values and liberties are now best perserved by locking them up in secure, undisclosed locations and never speaking of them again?

i think it’s fairly well established at this point that us intelligence and military personnel have gone above and beyond the call of duty on several occasions since 2000, and their advice and conclusions have been ignored or dismissed. worse, because these people work in sensitive circumstances, they aren’t really able to stand up and say “wait! that’s not what we said!” without compromising not only their careers, but also the lives of soldiers in the field and civilians at home.

time and time again, the military and the us intelligence apparatus has been left holding the bag for profound policy mistakes from the bush administration. i don’t want to turn this into a shopping list – pick your own policy misadventure from ignoring the “here’s a way to kill bin laden” advice from a previous administration to the current thousands of dead americans in iraq cascade of failures.

i still believe that the people in the military and the intelligence community are doing the best they can with the short straws they get dealt, and i respect that those still serving cannot express their frustrations. what confuses me is that people who once served in those capacities aren’t willing to stand up for their legacies more often. what confuses me is that veterans aren’t literally up-in-arms over sending soldiers into unnecessary wars. what confuses me is that former intelligence personnel aren’t making public statements about the futility of american counter-terrorism spending priorities under the bush administration. what confuses me is that people who dedicated their lives to preserving american principles and freedoms aren’t exercising them.

strange times indeed. while my personal experiences have been less than positive in this regard, it is not so everywhere. i’d like to take this space to thank some people who have served this country and continue to serve this country by offering their thoughts and concerns to the representatives that make the laws that govern us.

so, nod from me to general colin powell (ret.), who was personally left holding the bag in an an intelligence disaster in front of the united nations and who personally served in both korea and vietnam, and who has stepped up and opposed the bush administration position on torture because that position is a threat to american soldiers and civilians.

I just returned to town and learned about the debate taking place in Congress to redefine Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. I do not support such a step and believe it would be inconsistent with the McCain amendment on torture which I supported last year.

I have read the powerful and eloquent letter sent to you by one of my distinguished predecesssors as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Jack Vessey. I fully endorse in tone and tine his powerful argument. The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. To redefine Common Article 3 would add to those doubts. Furthermore, it would put our own troops at risk.

I am as familiar with The Armed Forces Officer as is Jack Vessey. It was written after all the horrors of World War II and General George C. Marshall, then Secretary of Defense used it to tell the world and to remind our soliders of our moral obligations with respect to those in our custody

and a nod to general john “jack” vessey (ret.), who served in world war 2, korea and vietnam, and, as far as i can tell, spent more time in active service in the united states military than any other person in history.

Sometimes, the news is a little garbled by the time it reaches the forests of North-central Minnesota, but I call your attention to recent reports that the Congress is considering legislation which might relax the United States support for adherence to Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. If that is true, it would seem to weaken the effect of the McCain Amendment on torture of last year. If such legislation is being considered, I fear that it may weaken America in two respects. First, it would undermine the moral basis which has generally guided or [sic] conduct in war throughout our history. Second, it could give opponents a legal argument for the mistreatment of Americans being helld prisoner in time of war.

In 1950, three years after the creation of the Department of Defense, the then Secretary of Defense, General George C. Marshall, issued a small book, titled The Armed Forces Officer. The book summarized the laws and traditions that governed our Armed Forces through the years. As the Senate deals with the issue it might consider a short quote from the last chapter of that book which General Marshall sent to every American Officer. The last chapter is titled “Americans in Combat” and it lists 29 general propositions which govern the conduct of Americans in war. Number XXV, which I long ago underlined in my copy, reads as follows:

The United States abides by the laws of war. Its Armed Forces, in their dealing with all other peoples, are expected to comply with the laws of war, in the spirit and the letter. In waging war, we do not terrorize helpless non-combatants, if it is within our power to avoid so doing. Wanton killing, torture, cruelty or the working of unusual hardship on enemy prisoners or populations is not justified in any circumstance. Likewise, respect for the reign of law, as that term is understood in the United States, is expected to follow the flag whereever it goes ….”

For the long term interest of the United States as a nation and for the safety of our own forces in battle, we should continue to maintain those principles. I continue to read and hear that we are facing a “different enemy” in the war on terror; no matter how true that may be, inhumanity and cruelty are not new to warfare nor to enemies we have faced in the past. In my short 46 years in the Armed Forces, Americans confronted the horrors of the prison camps of the Japanese in World War II, the North Koreans in 1950-53, and the North Vietnamese in the long years of the Vietnam War, as well as knowledge of the Nazi’s holocaust deprediations in World War II. Through those years, we held to our own values. We should continue to do so.

Thank you for your own personal courage in maintaining those values, both in war and on the floor of the Senate. I hope that my information about weakening American support for Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention is in error, and if not, that the Senate will reject any such proposal.

and finally, a nod to the officers that signed this letter [pdf]:

General Joseph Hoar, USMC (Ret.), General John Shalikashvili, USA (Ret.), Admiral Stansfield Turner, USN (Ret.), Lieutenant General Robert G. Gard, Jr., USA (Ret.), Vice Admiral Lee F. Gunn, USN (Ret.), Lieutenant General Claudia J. Kennedy, USA (Ret.), Vice Admiral Albert H. Konetzni, Jr., USN (Ret.), Lieutenant General Charles Otstott, USA (Ret.), Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan, USN (Ret.), Major General John Batiste, USA (Ret.), Major General Eugene Fox, USA (Ret.), Major General John L. Fugh, USA (Ret.), Rear Admiral Don Guter, USN (Ret.), Major General Fred E. Haynes, USMC (Ret.), Rear Admiral John D. Hutson, USN (Ret.), Major General Melvyn Montano, ANG (Ret.), Major General Gerald T. Sajer, USA (Ret.), Brigadier General David M. Brahms, USMC (Ret.), Brigadier General James P. Cullen, USA (Ret.), Brigadier General Evelyn P. Foote, USA (Ret.), Brigadier General David R. Irvine, USA (Ret.), Brigadier General John H. Johns, USA (Ret.), Brigadier General Richard O’Meara, USA (Ret.), Brigadier General Murray G. Sagsveen, USA (Ret.), Brigadier General Anthony Verrengia, USAF (Ret.), Brigadier General Stephen N. Xenakis, USA (Ret.), Ambassador Pete Peterson, USAF (Ret.), Colonel Lawrence B. Wilkerson, USA (Ret.), Honorable William H. Taft IV.

For anyone that would care to take the time, the The Armed Forces Officer is available here [pdf], and from the department of defense as DOD GEN–36A, Army Pamphlet 600-2, Naval Education and Training 46905–A, Air Force Pamphlet 190–13, and Navy Marine Corps Document 2563.

posted by roj at 6:36 am