Guest Commentary

PR charades notwithstanding, Fort Huachuca wrote the book on prisoner abuse

As things in Iraq get uglier and uglier, Arizona has emerged as the focus for some of the shame and blame blowing back from the occupation.

It seems some big shots from Fort Huachuca were square in the middle of the prisoner-abuse scandal, the latest startling reminder of the nastiness that is counterinsurgency. The Army was so alarmed by the latest revelations that they "opened the doors" to the major military intelligence center near Sierra Vista in a hastily arranged public relations charade to prove that they had "nothing to hide."

Mounting evidence suggests otherwise.

At least two whistleblowers have emerged to say, yes, they were taught such tactics at Fort Huachuca, and some of the lowly soldiers being court-martialed for psychosexual hijinks in Iraq have indicated they were indeed following orders from military intelligence officers to "soften up" prisoners.

But let's look back. What can history tell us about these matters? We needn't look far to discover that, PR charades notwithstanding, Fort Huachuca--quite literally--wrote the book on prisoner abuse.

In 1996, as part of the campaign to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA), activists used the Freedom of Information Act to force the release of training manuals used at the SOA, a notorious counterinsurgency training facility for Latin-American personnel. Those manuals, used at the SOA for many years and distributed in the thousands by the U.S. Army to military, police and intelligence units throughout Latin America, explicitly advocated the use of torture--not just "bending the rules" of interrogation, as some have timidly euphemized the current scandal.

In their investigations, activists discovered that the SOA manuals were adapted from training manuals used by U.S. personnel in Vietnam and translated into Spanish right here in Arizona, at Fort Huachuca.

It's an interesting thread, the one that leads back to Vietnam. As a result of shocking, honest media coverage of that brutal war, Americans lost the stomach for the nasty sort of counterinsurgency that helped elevate this nation to the dominant imperial superpower it is today. For 30 years after that debacle, the U.S. military relied on outsourcing the messy business of holding down the world's rabble to Third World proxies. The involvement of U.S. personnel was limited to training and covert operations conducted by certain elite units, and kept far from the public eye.

During that time, the reputation of the military rebounded, to the point where it now rates as one of the most respected institutions in American society. But alas, now we arrive in Iraq, and Americans are getting a disturbing reminder of what occupation and counterinsurgency are all about.

Some argue, with great force of logic, that we are dealing with fanatics in Iraq, people with no respect for human rights, people who give no quarter and should be given none in return.

But what to make of the Red Cross report that 70-90 percent (a number corroborated by U.S. officials) of the prisoners in Iraq were arrested by mistake and had nothing to do with the armed resistance? And how about the 10,000 Iraqi civilians who have perished during the invasion/occupation, three times the number that were killed in the World Trade Center? Can we write them off as unfortunate but necessary victims of our own holy war of revenge (against a nation that clearly had nothing to with the Sept. 11 attacks in the first place) and still maintain the moral, or even logical, high ground?

Counterinsurgency is ugly. There's no way around it. War makes killers of our sons and daughters, and though one can argue that it is sometimes a sad necessity in this world, counterinsurgency will turn them into murderers and torturers. It is the nature of the business.

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