Michael's Dispatches

Tactical Success, Strategic Defeat

24 Comments

02 March 2009

This Washington Post story rings true with my experience from October 2008.  I was in Afghanistan, and embeds with U.S. soldiers in that particular area were hard to come by, so I endeavored to hear the other side of the story, which was much easier to accomplish.  It’s amazing that it’s easier to interview potential enemies than to embed with U.S. forces.  Anyway, I went to the area near the village of Sper Kundy, just near Sarobi, where 10 French soldiers had recently died, and interviewed two men from the village.  Interestingly, I am told, that after I went there, a journalist tried to do the same thing and got kidnapped.  Apparently he was released without harm.  I was told that the journalist had used the same interpreter, though I have no verification of this.  In any case, the interpreter disappeared.

My story: The Road to Hell

And today’s Washington Post story.  See the similarities?

Tactical Success, Strategic Defeat


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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Keith Bagley · 9 years ago
    Like you, I believe that the only way the US can fully assert her leadership in this world is to remain on the moral high ground. Torture is a short-sighted tactic that does much more harm than good. We cannot get in the muck with our dishonorable enemies...there is no telling how far down in immorality they are willing to take us.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Chackern · 9 years ago
    Unfortunately,
    I think, too many people have become accustomed to seeing it in our movies and television shows that it has become part of our thinking.
    All one needs to do, is look at how many times "Jack Bauer" has tortured someone on the popular TV show "24" and you get the idea. We have become a society of pragmatists, "The end justifies the means".
    History is full of examples that teach us, what happens when a society loses its moral compass. We have become a society full of fear, so we entrust "someone" to "save us". "Save us Julius", "Save us Adolf"; "Do what you need to do but, get us out of this mess!"
    Thank you Michael for your stand.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    JC Gorman · 9 years ago
    My great respect for you Michael compels me to agree with you. I am sure you know better then I regarding this subject. But would someone beside the government bureaucrats, who would not leave their desks to help anyone for any reason, be allowed to define then hows and whys of any policy that is applied to the individuals doing the difficult job they are doing. The use of the Army Field Manual by a seasoned intelligence officer is like allowing a rookie police officer investigate and question individuals charged with rape and homicide. The word torture is is so loaded ill defined that it can mean anything to anyone.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    KLM · 9 years ago
    Maybe our Troops are more concerned about your safety and their ability to provide that safety than the enemy is worried about protecting reporters? Just a thought...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Landon Steele · 9 years ago
    While I agree that we must remain "the good guys" as an institution, I also understand as a soldier, medic and an interpreter the need to do what must be done to preserve the lives of my soldiers. I agree that as an interrogation tool torture is wrong. But what of the commander who's troops are about to run over an IED or walk into an ambush? Should he or she torture or threaten the life of a captured insurgent to save the lives of US troops? As a medic and I'm done attending memorial services and would personally not do so at the expense of meeting the moral standards of civilians back home who have no grasp of what a final roll call service is like.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Aaron Dewar · 9 years ago
    Thank you, Mr. Yon, for publicly stating your opposition to the use of torture. If we are to expect our troops to risk their lives to defend our principles, we must keep those principles intact even if it is dangerous to do so.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    U.Z. · 9 years ago
    In addition to Chackern's "save us Julius, save up Adolph", I must add "save us Barack".
    On to the subject of torture. Having been to Navy SERE school and subjected to waterboarding and other "uncomfortable" situations, I think we should not administer any interrogation techniques that our own troops don't go through during training.
    Also, John McCain said we do not get reliable information through torture, but our instructors taught us not to lie because: a) you have to remember your lie, and b) if the enemy finds out you were lying, the treatment will be worse. If anyone knows about torture, it's John McCain, but SERE training was developed after our POW's returned from Vietnam. Just my 2 cents.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Phillip Russel · 9 years ago
    This isn't the inquisition, this is Combat. If bad guys told the truth, there would'nt be any need for torture.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Aaron Gus Goodrich U · 9 years ago
    Just questions ... no answers

    1. if we do torture or if we dont does it actually have anything to do with with how our POW's are treated?

    2. If torture provided information that thwarted the detonation of a nuke in the US would that be ok or would torture to save 300,000 still not be ok?

    3. If torture prevented the detonation of a nuke in the city were your family lives .... worth it then?

    4. If torture prevented the rape and beheading of your wife and daughter while you watched ... worth it then?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Carl Schwamberger · 9 years ago
    The answer to the question of torture is obvious to me on so many levels. From a leadership perspective abusive persuasion is extremely negative. I've frequently seen such behavior produce failure in getting results. While the target of abusive persuasion will intially move towards the goal with the desired speed or demonstrate the desired behavior this effect lasts only for the short term. The long term result is evasive behavior by others who witness or are aware of the abuse. This evasive action often extends into active opposition where none was encountered before or would have been expected.

    The leader who uses such abusive techniques usually does so because they lack the skill or intellect to use better leadership methods. As such abuse represents a falure in skill, planning, and ability.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    woodNfish · 9 years ago
    I'm not buying it Michael. Since when do humiliation and insult equate to torture? Waterboarding may be at the extreme end of what we do, but where is the mutilation and murder that real torturers use?

    The looney left in the USA has left us nothing but rendition to and your retreat to the "moral high ground" is BS. Remember to eat your words when the terrorist nuke goes off in the States, Michael. After all terrorists are not a threat, carbon dioxide is.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Alec Rawls · 9 years ago
    Michael Yon wrote in his email with this link:

    "Many people seem to believe that by using torture we prove we are tough."

    What a ridiculous straw man. Half the comments on that thread were pointing out that the Obama speech that Michael was applauding was dishonest, accusing the Bush administration of using torture when it had not. As for the torture question rather than the Obama-dishonesty question, I did not see ANYONE supporting torture on the grounds that it proves we are tough. Those who are for it are for it where it has the potential to yield life-saving intelligence.

    The effectiveness of water-boarding seems to make any actual torture superfluous. We can break 'em without it. But that is a practical fact, not a principled objection. If actual torture could yield intel that water-boarding cannot, then the extreme discomfort of those who would be tortured does not trump the extreme discomfort, or the lives, of those they are trying to murder. This logic has absolutely NOTHING to do with proving we are tough, and I challenge Michael to show us ANYONE who actually said anything that stupid, never mind "many people."

    Take the heat Michael. You deserve it. And stay safe out there in harm's way. You da man.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Howard E. Morseburg · 9 years ago
    First of all, it is evident that in Michael Yon we all have a source of knowledge and experience that is extra-ordinary, and we have come to respect all that he does. His opinions help shape ours, and thank goodness for him.
    But, at age 84, I have an oversight too, and as a Merchant Seaman in my youth, I did some extra-ordinary traveling and gained some experience as well.
    Yet, from the time I was able to read, I had another experience, that of a reader, not of great novels (well, those too), but from the fact that my father brought home three to four newspapers a day and my brother and I delivered two others locally. We read them, many from cover to cover, My son today buys and reads three to four newspaper a day.
    What is it we're supposed to do as a nation different than the others? We're already on high moral ground, but I still say "self-preservation" at times requires that we take the necessary means to do just that. At times it may hurt, at times we may wince, but that's part of life.
    I don't recall anyone recommending extreme torture in their answers to Michael, and neither did I. Back in WWII, the Japanese submarine Captains time and again ordered that their men machine gunned life-boats, or they took the whole crew prisoner, then bayoneted or beheaded them. That's a fact. Our ship was torpedoed by a Japanest sub in the Indian Ocean, but luckily for us, it was a dud, but in port a diver verified the dent in the hull. It was a vicious enemy, just as we keep encountering in war again and again. There may be times when stronger measures may be deemed necessary, and again, no one can ever deny that additional pressure to obtain vital information, at times, in the past may have resulted in saved lives, victories won, wars even won.
    Tell me, what are the exact parameters of "the moral high-ground" and who has set them? Obviously Daniel Peart was up there, but then, with some animals in human form, that's something they don't recognize.
    Where's the moral high-ground in Mexico, for example? All the good guys, as soon as they take office, are exterminated as are their families. Bodies, some perhaps not yet dead, were dissolved in acid, 300 of them. How much persuasion should be used to obtain the location of Drug Cartel headquarters from a captured mercenary?
    Nah, I'm not recommending or disallowing some means deemed a bit extreme, but I say the "moral high-ground" as some see it might be an illusion that we can ill-afford. It's a stance that could prove just as fatal as ptomaine poisoning.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jerry D. Brown · 9 years ago
    Thanks for your opinion on torture Mr. Yon. I think I've been sending you about $200 per year for the excellent reporting you have done. Since you have now become a political/moral pundit, I no longer feel the need to support you; that is my opinion.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Steve Weiss · 9 years ago
    Michaell, in your second statement responding to the uproar over your torture comment, I think you are being very unfair to your critics. I didn't see any evidence of someone trying to be "tough" or talking about wholesale torture. It is legitimate to discuss what constitutes torture, whether there are appropriate times when it can be used, and how can we elicit information from--let's face it--bad guys.

    The question that you have to answer is whether it was legitimate to waterboard Khaled to get the information that avoided a number of terrorist acts. If you are black and white, then you would have done nothing. I can't agree with that. And I don't think that makes me a Nazi (as implied by some of the comments above).

    Frankly, I think there is less "torture" going on than in some Jerry Bruckheimer TV shows.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    rachel · 9 years ago
    I don't think torture is OK. I also don't think WE torture people. Sleep deprivation and waterboarding are not my definition torture. I think beheading and dismemberment are methods of torture. We don't do that. Our enemy does. I think we need to do what is necessary to get the information we need to save lives. If that means making someone extremely uncomfortable....I couldn't care less.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Graeme Thompson · 9 years ago
    In Great Britain in WWII it came to light that an interrogation centre was using torture to extract information from German prisoners. A report was sent to Churchill. The centre was kept open. The information the centre was getting was far too useful to close.

    I deeply admire the work you do Mr Yon, and will continue contributing when I may, but you have insulted your readers by saying many support the use of torture because it 'makes us look tough' and that "wholesale torture" is advocated.

    Our enemy uses torture and broadcasts it to instill fear in the civilised world. If and when we have used torture it has been to save innocent lives. It takes none of the moral high ground away from us, it just enables us to defend civlisation better.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Carsten · 9 years ago
    Dear Michael,

    Reading your old blog and your website I learned a lot about the high morale of US troops. The men you described are warriors:
    Proud and strong.
    Torture is neither for the proud nor the strong. It??s the means of the coward.

    You are 100% right that torture, to what ends ever, is NOT the way of the warrior.
    As that US chapel in Iraq you quoted put it "That??s what divides them from us."
    Stay well!
    Carsten
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Joseph Spooner · 9 years ago
    For me, gaining information through very strong methods, to include waterboarding, that would save the GOOD from the EVIL IS justified--for that is the REAL MORAL ISSUE.

    Maiming, or permanently disabling a captured human to gain such information is not justified--but fear and extreme discomfort is, in my view.

    And I am tough, Mr Yon, but that has nothing to do with my views on these extreme, but moral, measures; I just value the good more than I value the evil.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John Butchko · 9 years ago
    Obama has forgotten the Golden Rule... "Do on to others as they do to you."
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Will Rivera · 9 years ago
    How can we possibly condone such double-think as considering ourselves so morally superior that we can justify such a base action. Isn't that making us immoral? The strength of a society is measured by how it defends its values when they are under attack. The terrorists hate our morals and values, and people believe that therefore we must ignore them completely. Isn't our duty to defend them during times of hardship? What are we fighting for if we are just as bad as the terrorists? Don't you dare claim that we can torture because we are morally superior, because those two things are not reconcilable. We are not the good guys if we behave like the bad guys.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brian H. · 9 years ago
    I believe that torture maybe a necessary evil at times in this fight, but there are limits of what possible useful information can be taken for people who have been imprisonned for years and still being tortured.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lorenz Gude · 9 years ago
    V S Naipaul's book The Loss of Eldarado on the history of Trinidad tells of a peculiar period in the 1830s when the island had a British governor who ruled under Spanish law. In the matter of torture there was a direct conflict between the British and Spanish law. The British law said that the testimony of a slave was unreliable if coerced by torture. The Spanish law took the view that the testimony could not be trusted unless it was extracted by torture. I think of those two legal approaches as constituting the interrogator's dilemma. You can get bad information from pushing too hard or not hard enough. The appropriate treatment and approach will vary from prisoner to prisoner. I don't know enough to do the job but I have some appreciation of the difficulties involved. I expect to be strongly pressured by police if they suspect me of something significant and I know as long as I live I will be subject to having pain inflicted on me. So I don't expect torture to go away. What the US does - try to define torture and then not exceed the guidelines is about as good as you can do. The rule that you don't expose prisoners to anything that your soldiers don't experience in training seems another appropriate limitation. I also want to say that I don't read Michael because I agree with him. I read him because I can rely on him to tell the truth as he sees it. I can't do that with the MSM, so to me it is a small matter if I disagree with him on some point or other. He understands his subject and doesn't distort what he experiences to fit a predictable narrative. I see his work as closer to raw intelligence - not the whole picture but reliable and accurate dispatches.
  • This commment is unpublished.
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