It’s a moral dilemma to be sure.
Last week, I watched the movie, Lone Survivor. It’s based on the account by former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell whose team, along with a Chinook crew and whole squad of SF operators, were killed in action.
Nineteen of the US military’s best men died because PO Luttrell’s commanding officer, LT Michael Murphy, decided to release 3 prisoners – 1 old man and 2 boys – rather than kill them outright or bind them, which the SEALs believed would likely result in their deaths (animal predators, weather).
LT Murphy made his decision in accordance with his morality, the rules of engagement, and laws of war. He also made this decision expecting that his erstwhile prisoners would inform the nearby Taliban forces of his SEAL team. These particular Taliban were known to be responsible for, and thus capable of, killing US Marines, which is a hard thing to do.
Nineteen of America’s best men, many of whom were husbands and fathers of young children, were killed because LT Murphy made an all-American moral decision, the kind we teach our soldiers to make with their dedicated ethical training from the earliest stage of their military indoctrination.
His only reprieve is that he didn’t survive long enough to see his close comrades in the rescue squad, whom he had called to save his team with his last act in life, also die as a result of his moral decision to spare the lives of the old man and 2 boys who would kill him and his men.
LT Murphy honored the highest traditions and values of the US military and was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously.
The moral dilemma of “enhanced interrogation” does not rise to killing old men and young boys who accidently stumble on a secret op. It’s usually not even torture by the standard of our enemy in the War on Terror.
But the other side of the moral dilemma of “enhanced interrogation” is even heavier than the life-or-death choice that faced LT Murphy and killed him.
Rather than LT Murphy’s own life, the lives of the three men in his command, and even the doomed rescue team he didn’t live to see, our interrogators are tasked with preventing the killing of 10s, 100s, 1000s, maybe even 10000s or more – depending on the kind of weapon the terrorists can obtain from terrorist supporters like Saddam – civilians, not just soldiers. Interrogators are charged with protecting the homeland itself.
When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, I was disgusted, as was every other Army veteran I knew. But my reaction was tempered by the appreciation that the terrorists were assassinating and mass-murdering 10s and 100s of Iraqis at a time, almost every day, along with humanitarian aid workers and the coalition soldiers defending Iraq. Our interrogators at Abu Ghraib were wrong … but they were wrong while trying desperately to save American, coalition, aid workers, and most of all, Iraqi lives by stopping an enemy who was – and is – zealously committed to achieving social dominance through unrestrained terror-style murder and real torture.
Our morality – Michael Murphy’s morality – demands our judgement that certain acts are wrong and intolerable. Had I been in command, I’m certain I would have made the suicidal [and fratricidal] decision that LT Murphy made. I also would have penalized the interrogators and MPs at Abu Ghraib.
But know that
Related: My first impression of the Abu Ghraib scandal and CIA Saved Lives.