The Right Way To Interrogate Enemy Prisoners Of War, Courtesy Of A Marine Who Was A Missionary UPDATED

This is the last time I’ll be posting about this subject. Yesterday I shared a few thoughts about the torture report released recently, and today I’ll simply point to a few resources that bolster the argument that resorting to torture is a complete waste of time. That it is morally wrong for Catholics to even consider torture as an option is important as well, though seemingly neglected in some corners.

I have friends who tell me that “this time it’s different” because the enemies we face are implacable and (seemingly) superhuman. Others tell me that “slapping a little water in someone’s face, or not letting them sleep for a little bit” isn’t torture, etc. All of the sudden, we just can’t seem to define torture, you see?

As I shared yesterday, the enhanced interrogation (torture) program was a dismal failure. Even if it was a rousing success, though, it would still be a crime to use these methods. Sorry about that 24 fans!

You may recall the last time we faced implacable, inscrutable, enemies hell-bent on our destruction. Ferocious fighters, whose sense of duty and honor ran so deep that attacks of suicidal ferocity were the norm, were who we were facing in the Pacific Theater in World War II. And a Marine Major by the name of Sherwood Ford Moran found a way to glean information from them without harming a hair on their heads.

Back in 2005, the Atlantic Monthly ran an article written by Stephen Budiansky which introduced Major Moran’s work to the general public. Entitled Truth Extraction, here is how the piece began,

Six months before the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison broke into public view, a small and fairly obscure private association of United States Marine Corps members posted on its Web site a document on how to get enemy POWs to talk. The document described a situation very similar to the one the United States faces in the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan: a fanatical and implacable enemy, intense pressure to achieve quick results, a brutal war in which the old rules no longer seem to apply.

Marine Major Sherwood F. Moran, the report’s author, noted that despite the complexities and difficulties of dealing with an enemy from such a hostile and alien culture, some American interrogators consistently managed to extract useful information from prisoners. The successful interrogators all had one thing in common in the way they approached their subjects. They were nice to them.

Moran was writing in 1943, and he was describing his own, already legendary methods of interrogating Japanese prisoners of war. More than a half century later his report remains something of a cult classic for military interrogators. The Marine Corps Interrogator Translator Teams Association, a group of active-duty and retired Marine intelligence personnel, calls Moran’s report one of the ‘timeless documents’ in the field and says it has long been ‘a standard read’ for insiders. An MCITTA member says the group decided to post Moran’s report online in July of 2003, because ‘many others wanted to read it’ and because the original document, in the Marine Corps archives, was in such poor shape that the photocopies in circulation were difficult to decipher. He denies that current events had anything to do with either the decision to post the document or the increased interest in it.

Read it all.

As a result of that article being published, Moran’s family put up a website with more biographical information on him.  It was there that I learned that Moran had been a missionary.  I found this portion of his story to be particularly interesting,

Guadalcanal was where Sherwood F. began his assignment of interrogation, informed by his pioneering and now legendary style. Today it seems a combination of pragmatic psychology and moral — Christian — values, joined together in, and practiced by, this one individual. Sherwood F. never experienced any ambivalence in what he did; there was little disconnect between social work in Japan and “social work” in Guadalcanal, except that the goal was to get useful information. He immediately went down to the level of the prisoner. He began by asking what village he was from. He would say, “I know the river, and that bridge in your neighborhood;” and so on. Each prisoner had a tale he wanted to tell. To be heard, and have our personal story understood: these are elementary needs, a fact Sherwood F. knew deeply. He got these young men’s tales. Other interrogators modeled their efforts after him, and certainly the BiJ (born in Japan) ones, like missionary child Otis Cary, already had in common with him the basic understanding, acceptance, and love of the Japanese people. They were universally deemed a charming nation — friendly, polite, generous, hardworking, admirable in all other respects — when they were not killing others.

Read more.

Moran’s classic SUGGESTIONS FOR JAPANESE INTERPRETERS BASED ON WORK IN THE FIELD can be read in its entirety here.

Before you run off to read that fine memo I want you to remember that the only way to prevent this from occurring again is for you to pledge that you yourself will never stoop to using methods of torture. Teach your children that it is wrong, and that the Catholic Church does not condone it. Do not kid yourself that you don’t understand what torture is. If you wouldn’t want your mother, your wife, or your best friend’s youngest child to endure it, then rest assured that the method in question is torture.

Incidentally, the guy who wrote the book How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq went the counterintuitive route as well, and with good effect.

And that is all I have to say about this subject.

Semper Fidelis

UPDATE 12/20/2014

So you’re a fan of 24 and you believe Zero Dark Thirty was a documentary?

“What Zero Dark Thirty claims is that torture (and the mere likelihood of further torture) gets useful results, and those results were crucial to finding Bin Laden. The evidence says otherwise.”

You’ve been played, citizen.

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