The prison scandal, intelligence gathering and war

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 16, 2004

For the past week politicians and pundits alike have beat their symbolic chests, shook their heads and cast doubt on our military in the way that is neither fair nor balanced.

We believe a different view should be considered.

Ask any Suffolk resident or out-of-town visitor about their opinion on the prison scandal and we believe that very few would dispute that the photos of acts perpetrated at Abu Ghraib prison reflect neither American values nor this country’s normally strict adherence to the &uot;rules of war.&uot; In a word they were repugnant.

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Unlike other adversaries America has faced in the past few decades, such as the war lord-led militia in Somalia, who willfully ordered the dismemberment of fallen U.S. service members or the armies that conducted reported brutal mass murders under Solobon Milosevic, the United States has always taken the high road regarding prisoners, and their treatment. We believe this high standard is the norm rather than the exception for the U.S. military. As a nation we should be proud of this.

What troubles us is not the overall reaction to the acts of a couple of poorly trained and supervised soldiers, rather the need for America to understand that tactical intelligence is perhaps the most critical element in the type of urban combat our forces are engaged in. The only way that tactical intelligence can be obtained is to make prisoners uncomfortable, which means our nation needs to accept a new reality. The symbolic gloves need to come off. This doesn’t mean beating prisoners or electrically shocking them. What it does mean is that our country needs to understand that war and intelligence gathering are a dirty business.

The month of April was a horrible period for American forces. As of May 11 over 700 service members have died, many killed by insurgents using urban warfare tactics to their advantage. One of the best ways to counter these tactics is good tactical intelligence. Within the rules of international law this should be our primary focus, and where we should place our support.

Unfortunately many with a national voice don’t see it that way.