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A Commentary: "War is Hell"

This commentary is bound to be controversial. Have we forgotten the images of human beings throwing themselves from 100 stories high to avoid being burned alive as airplanes obliterated the World Trade Center Towers on the morning of September 11, 2001? People literally were flying from the broken windows of the buildings to avoid being burned alive or crushed into nothingness as the buildings collapsed.

As William Tecumseh Sherman said, without a question, "War is hell". Some people make a distinction between war and the tactics of interrogation.

This is not in any way an attempt to justify torture, and in fact, the question posed here is not whether the "coercive interrogation tactics" were legal or not. There is a real time debate regarding whether or not the release of the papers relating to the "extreme interrogation techniques" used on known terrorists to extract information from them. To what lengths are we to go to avoid another attack, and to what lengths are we to go to extract information from suspected terrorists? Perhaps the question is not whether the techniques were successful, but whether they were humane. Or whether their use was un-American. Again, on the morning of September 11, and then in the aftermath of the attacks, one would be hard pressed to conclude that the "certain death/almost certain death" choices made by some of the occupants of the World Trade Center Towers was anything but humane.

While initially avoiding outright condemnation of the interrogation activities of the CIA to interrogate terrorists (and therefore criminalizing the actions of the agents who performed the interrogations), the current Administration began distancing itself from the tactics of the previous Administration. Today, there is a possibility of legal steps being lodged against those who knowingly authorized the use of such tactics. Some, who originally acknowledged that they had been briefed on the actions, are now back peddling and claiming no prior knowledge.

This is no doubt a dicey issue. Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates who supported the release of sensitive memos on the interrogation techniques because he saw their release as "inevitable," also made clear his position that CIA operatives should be exempt from prosecution.
"I felt very strongly the importance that they be protected and against all different kinds of possible prosecutions," Gates told reporters during a visit to this Marine Corps base in North Carolina. Another concern, Gates said, was the possibility that the Obama administration's release of the memos would cause a "backlash in the Middle East" that could adversely affect U.S. forces operating there. In discussions, he said, senior administration officials realized the disclosure could be "used by al-Qaeda" to generate opposition against the United States.

What specifically are those "extreme interrogation" techniques? Some are listed here.


● Waterboarding: Aimed at simulating sensation of drowning. Used on alleged 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

● Insect: Harmless insect to be placed with suspect in 'confinement box', suspect to be told the insect would sting. Approved for Abu Zubaydah, but not used

● Walling: Detainee slammed repeatedly into false wall to create sound and shock

● Sleep deprivation: Detainee shackled stading up. Used often, once for 180 hours

This segues to another question of to what lengths are we to go to seek "peace" with those who, based on their publicly stated views, cannot be our friends, and at best can be undependable? The Administration believes that reaching out to our enemies strengthens our National Security.

Two contrasting comments on the subject of our "friend" Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

President Obama: "It's unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States."

Hugo Chavez: The United States "is the devil that represents capitalism."

Next, examine the alliances being forged by another of our "friends," Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, especially that with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

"We have common interests, common enemies and common goals", he said as he visited shantytowns in Managua with the Nicaraguan leader, Daniel Ortega.

And finally, in the words of Ahmadinejad himself:

"Following World War II," he continued, according to an official English-language text of his remarks, "they resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless, on the pretext of Jewish sufferings and the ambiguous and dubious question" of the Holocaust. "They sent migrants from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world, in order to establish a totally racist government in occupied Palestine," he said, "and in fact, in compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive racists, in Palestine."

Do we sleep with the enemy? And if we do, do their fleas and bed bugs bite us? Indeed, "War is Hell." Then again, the concept of war, and whether we are waging a War on Terror(ism) is in the process of being redefined. The fear of course, is that it will take another catastrophic attack on the scale of September 11, 2001 to jolt our collective memories and counteract the complacency that has seemingly set in.