Jus In Bello

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THE PLANK MAY 14, 2009

Jus In Bello

Tom Ricks shares a note that a lieutenant colonel sent to Charles Krauthammer following his "torture is an impermissible evil--except under circumstances so vague as to render it widely permissible" column. The soldier never heard back:

[A]s a Lieutenant Colonel and
Combat Arms Battalion Commander in the Army I am responsible for the welfare,
training, good order, and discipline of my soldiers. I am responsible for
everything they do or fail to do. I am also responsible to follow and issue
only those orders that are legal, ethical and moral. Torture of another human
being is illegal, unethical and immoral, and I would be duty bound to disobey
any such order...just as PFC Lynndie England and SPC Charles Graner (and their
many counterparts, senior officers and NCOs at Abu Ghraib) should have
done...just as any of my soldiers should disobey should I give such an order....

I told [my troops] the most important thing they needed to
take away from all their preparations was that while it would be terrible to
lose one of them or have one of them seriously physically injured, it would be
worse to have them come home physically well and mentally broken because they
had somehow lost their humanity. Torture destroys our humanity, and any
equivocation (feel free to exercise the Kantian absolutist vs utilitarian
argument to your heart's content) on the matter is just bullshit....

If captured I would honor our Armed Forces Code of
Conduct to the best of my ability and go to whatever my fate, resolute in the
knowledge that our nation remains a last bastion of what is right (or ought to
be right) in the world. Torture has no place in America, and Americans have no
reason to employ it. War ain't fair, but we have to fight it while maintaining
a level of dignity and humanity, jus in bello. This is rough work for people
bound to a code of Duty, Honor, Country. Proselytizers, who say but do not act,
need not apply. 

 The entire note is well worth reading.

Update: For any who missed it, Dan Froomkin's response to Krauthammer, which the Post ran online but not in the paper, is also excellent.

I would also note one of the characteristic lawyerly sophistries that Krauthammer tries to sneak past readers: Wrapping himself around John McCain, "the most admirable and estimable torture opponent," he notes than in a ticking-time-bomb scenario even McCain "says openly that in such circumstances, 'You do what you have to do.' And then take the responsibility." Expanding this exception to any instance of "a high-value enemy in possession of high-value information likely to save lives," Krauthammer repeats, "Under those circumstances, you do what you have to do. And that includes waterboarding." 

Note the five-word recognition of potential legal consequences that has mysteriously slipped away.

--Christopher Orr

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