Opinion: 'No Secret Rules on Torture'

Victor Hansen
Associate professor at New England School of Law/Retired JAG Lawyer
Thursday, December 15, 2005; 1:00 PM

Victor Hansen , an associate professor at New England School of Law who recently retired after 20 years in the Army as a JAG (military lawyer), was online Thursday, Dec. 15, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss his op-ed on a controversial addendum to the Army Field Manual.

Hansen is concerned about reports that the Army is attempting to include in the new version of the Field Manual a 10-page classified addendum listing examples of interrogation techniques. Hansen argues such a move would create more confusion for soldiers while the secrecy of the list would undermine the U.S. message of respecting human rights and the rule of law.

No Secret Rules on Torture , ( Post, Dec. 15, 2005 )

The transcript follows.


Detroit, Mich.: You seem to assume some inconsistency between the public manual and the secret addendum. Do you have evidence supporting that assumption? If we do not make that assumption, it may be that the secret addendum simply provides detailed instructions or examples to help users of the manual comply with its guidelines. It would make sense to keep the detailed instructions and examples secret so enemies cannot prepare their personnel to deal with our interrogators' techniques and avoid providing useful information. What's wrong with that?

Victor Hansen: True, the secret document may not be inconsistent. But if it is not, why keep is a secret and create the possible confusion? While we may not want to publish all techniques, there is also a risk that having two sets of techniques crates confusion and if the incidents at Abu Ghraib are any teacher, that confusion can cause serious problems.


Toronto, Canada: I found two versions of the interrogation field manual online, from 1987 and 1992

Do you know of more recent online copies?

Victor Hansen: The 1992 version is the most current. The one at issue is due out any time.


Springdale, Wash.: The Army Field Manual guidelines should list interrogation techniques that would be acceptable to how we would want our troops treated, respecting human rights and the rule of law.

Victor Hansen: Agree completely.


New York, N.Y.: You claim that "-published rules have the added benefit of sending a message to our allies and enemies that in an open society, we value the rule of law and will not train soldiers to violate human rights." If what you mean by 'human rights' is an international regime of elitist policy-makers without state-backing or a recognized court-system to enforce its norms that seeks to intrude on our sovereignty, then 'human rights' and 'rule of -American law' are incompatible. Why do you care more about our law comporting with international standards than care about our law comporting with what the American people want? If an overwhelming majority of the American people agreed with Charles Krauthammer, it seems like you would argue that is a reason to abandon democracy and cede American sovereignty to the Hague. By no means do I intend to be facetious.

Victor Hansen: We as a country and an Army have a long established history of treating our enemies humanely. History has proven that this policy has benefited our soldiers and enhanced our respect throughout the world. Why abandon a policy that has worked so well?


Rockville, Md.: How often do violent interrogation methods yield truthful and useful information, and how often do they yield false, counterproductive information? Accepting the Administration's implied ethos that moral issues are irrelevant, what is the cost-benefit analysis of this lifestyle choice?

Victor Hansen: Agree completely. This gets to the heart of this issue and it seems to me that is the point that so many are ignoring or talking past. I doubt that we are getting much valuable intel. from the detainees at Gitmo after 3 plus years.


Sewickley, Pa: Thank you for your op-ed piece in today's paper. My husband is an Army officer with 18 years of service. He was surprised when he actually had to explain (upon his return from duty in Iraq) to quite a few friends and family members why torture is not acceptable. He was extremely disgusted by the reports/photos from Abu Ghraib and made the point that in past conflicts enemy soldiers have been willing to surrender to U.S. forces because they were confident they would be treated humanely. He believes that is probably no longer true. My question for you concerns the image of the U.S. armed forces. If the Army is adding a secret addendum on coercive techniques to the Field Manual, if the military is paying to plant stories in the foreign press, and if the Pentagon is conducting domestic surveillance of Quakers and other anti-war activists, I believe we are in danger of so tarnishing the image of our military personnel that it will take decades to recover. Does the top brass have any sense that these programs and techniques have enough value to risk the honor of our beloved Army?

Victor Hansen: I wish I had the answer to that question. That is what many of us who have worn the uniform our entire adult life are asking frequently. From my perception, limited though it is, the reviews are mixed. I have the hope and faith that there are may great and courageous soldiers at all ranks who will keep our Army from loosing its way. But as you know, it takes these good people to step forward.


Annapolis, Md.: Has anyone been tracing the genesis of the "torture (and 'disappearance') is the key to winning" idea from the French experience in Algeria through Chile and Argentina in the 70s to the present? Isn't it ironic that an administration that disdains French attitudes is actually acting out French mistakes from the '50s? Don't they recall that the French lost Algeria, and that the perpetrators in South America have been repudiated by the world?

Victor Hansen: As the saying goes, those who don't study history are destined to repeat it.


You're no Victor Davis Hanson: I take issue with this: "If the reported secret addendum becomes part of the Army Field Manual, we can expect the same confusion in future operations."

In this case, you have one official manual, with some parts not publicly available, so terrorists can't see it. That is different from what happened at Abu Ghraib, where multiple versions of unofficial documents with conflicting dates were circulated amongst civilian contractors (who were unfamiliar with the Army Field Manual) and improperly-trained military personnel. The secret addendum will have the same date and be a part of the same manual. There will be no conflicting unofficial documents circulating around, and no back-chatter from civilian contractors who don't know what they're talking about, and no disintegration of training.

The whole point of the addendum is to --avoid-- those problems.

Victor Hansen: I would hope that the addendum would impose the regularity and consistency that you suggest will occur. From what I saw at Abu Ghraib however told a different story. I think there is a dangerous perception problem if more than one set of rules are even in existence. In spite of the best efforts by the senior leadership at Abu Ghraib, confusion and contradiction still existed. I also believe that there is a serious perception problem when we publish two sets of rules. It does not engender the trust and support in our allies that I believe is an important aspect of the GWOT. The recent issues regarding the CIA's practice of rendering prisoners to foreign countries is just the most recent example. If we have to spend all our time justifying our actions to the world, it is hard to pursue a global war.


Washington, D.C.: So, Victor - did you see Al Gonzales duck the "what is torture" question online yesterday?

Victor Hansen: Missed it


Frankfurt, Germany: Hey Mack,

I agree wholeheartedly that now is not the time to send mixed messages to our soldiers in the field (who bravely defend our country amidst great danger) or to our allies and partners in Europe (who already question our credibility and methods). Defending the national security and interests of the United States has always been a delicate balancing act-even more so in the post-9/11 world. President Bush, Secretary of State Rice, and other ranking officials have repeated that we face a different kind of enemy and are waging a new kind of war-a war in which we cannot afford to wait for terrorists to commit atrocities against civilians before we detain them. In your opinion, what can the U.S. do to repair its image and credibility abroad, while at the same time effectively prosecuting the War on Terror.

Victor Hansen: Excellent question J. I wish I had the answers. But given the damage that has already been created I do not believe that one more secret set of rules is the answer.


Lexington, Ky.: You object to the secrecy of the rules. But as I understand it, the reason for publicizing rules is so that they can be followed. Because the people who will be following them (i.e., the interrogators) will have access to the rules, it seems unnecessary for people who will not be conducting interrogations to need to see them.

Victor Hansen: Perhaps, and I would agree that this is an improvement from the current situation. However, secrecy in this area has its own risks. There is a real perception problem when we use secret rules that are not open to public scrutiny. It can make our efforts to succeed in the GWOT harder. I am not sure there has been full consideration of that issue. I also think that the jury is still out on whether aggressive interrogation techniques really get us good intel. There seems to be too much acceptance of this without much evidence to support it.


Arlington, Va.: Are any other important matters contained in secret parts of the Army Field Manual?

Victor Hansen: I do not know and because they are secret, we are expected to trust that everything is appropriate.


Chevy Chase, Md.: Don't you think that some political leaders may want to keep the rules ambiguous so that, through confusion or not, some harsh interrogations can be carried out?

Victor Hansen: Yes I do. And that is of great concern. At the end of the day it will be those in uniform who will be left holding the bad when things go bad.


Washington, D.C.: Properly trained personnel will follow approved procedures, whether those procedures are classified or unclassified documents. Classified procedures are the norm throughout the military. How the fact of its being classified would cause confusion to military personnel already accustomed to such things is beyond me. Second, if these procedures have been properly vetted through the legal channels, and the determination has been made that they are not torture, I think this is much better than the alternative. "Free and open" disclosure of our NON-TORTURE interrogation techniques would result in prisoners who have been trained how to resist those NON-TORTURE techniques.

Victor Hansen: Unfortunately I do not believe the facts support your opinion. It is not only the classification that can cause problems it is the fact that there are two sets of rules. Different sets of rules can cause confusion. That is what happened at Abu Ghraib even though the command struggled mightily to keep proper command and control over the situation. Secondly, what proof is there that aggressive techniques render good intel?


Albany, N.Y.: What is your opinion on the so-called "ticking time-bomb" scenario?

Victor Hansen: I think that scenario would exist rarely and is not likely to be faced by an Army Intel. officer. So why create a set of rules that damage our image, sow confusion and at the end of the day, will likely not need to be employed in a very rare ticking time bomb scenario? Why let the exceptions drive the rule?


Birmingham, Ala.: You seem to argue that because "we value the rule of law, -we should] not train soldiers to violate human rights." But if what we do to terrorists is no worse than basic training, or SERE training, which we do to our own troops, then aren't you really arguing that we shouldn't train our military to be battle-hardened?

Victor Hansen: How does training soldiers to violate human rights make our job easier when we conduct operations? I think there are important distinctions between training soldiers who volunteered, and who can call it quits any time they want and have control over the situation is different than torture.


Dale City, Va.: What hard evidence is there to support the idea that torture actually gets reliable information? I mean isn't this torture issue like the old days where convicts were beaten until they confessed, even when they hadn't actually committed the crime?

Victor Hansen: I agree


Va.: What about the North Koreans's treatment of U.S. POWs? What about the North Vietnamese's treatment of U.S. POWs? Both countries admitted they did not sign the treaty.

Victor Hansen: Do we want our conduct to be compared to them?


Chesapeake Beach, Md.: Isn't the damage already done? I mean, I want rules as much as you do, but aren't our troops going to be subject to "Abu-Ghraib" and "Gitmo" perceptions by their captors should they ever be taken prisoner, for, oh, about the next 30 years?

Victor Hansen: Possibly, but we have got to start somewhere. Most importantly we have to maintain the moral authority among our own forces. Our troops must believe that what they are doing has a moral and justifiable reason.


Rockville, Md.: I spent three years in the Army (one in Vietnam with the First Infantry) and learned two major lessons, One was to keep things simple (KISS) and the other was that there is no such thing as a stupid question. If one does not know the answer the point is to get one and not to care about looks.

I also learned interrogation and saw a major interrogation in combat do everything by the book and collect important information. The books works. Use it.

I later spend six years with Central Intelligence in Vietnam and applied what I had learned with Army Intelligence. It still worked.

With a history of tried and tested techniques that work, why is the Army getting off into these areas? What happened to its institutional memory?

I do also know that if something is not broken it does not have to be fixed.

Victor Hansen: I think that the situation at Abu Ghraib showed that something is broken. The current version of the Army FM is too broad. It gives too much discretion to very junior soldiers and not enough guidance for commanders. Clear understandable standards are important and they are lacking in the current version for the FM


Des Moines, Iowa: You conclude: "If the Army establishes two sets of rules and keeps one secret, it will be setting up commanders and soldiers for failure." But there always "failure" in any system of review. It is always the case that an employee will inevitably misinterpret a rule or misapply a standard and be corrected by a manager who is using a standard of review that the employee could not foresee. The benefit to secret -- or not-set-in-stone -- rules is that managers have flexibility to change the rules to fit changing circumstances without employee revolt.

Victor Hansen: Possibly, but I think there is a vast difference between an employment situation than the operational environment in war. With people dying and in harms way every day, some firm and absolute standards that all soldiers are trained on and can rely on are essential. There is enormous pressure in these situations to do what needs to be done at any cost. In some situations flexibility is not always the best option.


Corpus Christi, Tex.: Should the United States ratify Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions?

Victor Hansen: There are portions that the U.S. has legitimate objections to in my opinion.


Burke, Va.: It's horrible that there would be secret rules for treating captured people in the armed forces. One of the strength's of the U.S. has been our principles - including the Bill of Rights - the closer we stick to them the better we seem to do as a country.

Victor Hansen: I agree


Culver City, Calif.: You say that "Every official investigation that looked into the causes for detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison noted that there was confusion at all levels", but isn't that because we were using civilian contractors? Instead of opposing secret rules (which may have countervailing benefits that you ignore), why not oppose using mercenaries, much as Machiavelli recommended back in the 11th century?

Victor Hansen: Civilian contractors and lack of training and inexperience were part of the problem. In my opinion, interrogations is not something that should be contracted out for many many reasons.


Louisville, Ky.: Thank you for your op-ed. Do you think the timing of these "secret' rules was related to the fact that McCain was not budging on the McCain amendment language? I took it as being a message from this administration that if McCain won't play ball they have other ways to trump him. I also thought that the House may have thought that too which would explain why they held the symbolic vote of support for the McCain amendment yesterday. What do you think?

Victor Hansen: I really do not have much insight in to the political maneuverings. It is certainly possible.


Los Angeles, Calif.: We now know that testimony given by an al Qaeda member was made under duress while in Egyptian custody (via U.S. rendering) and was used by the White House in their calls for pre-emptive war. Isn't that all the evidence needed to determine that torture is a wildly inaccurate method for gaining accurate info?

Victor Hansen: Very good point. I do not think that there has been enough discussion on this most fundamental question.


St. John's, Newfoundland: re. the "ticking bomb" scenario we keep hearing about as a maybe I'm wrong, but here's how I see it working out:

Victim is tortured, victim names a location, team is sent to see if it is correct, but torture continues as the presumption would be that the initial response is a lie. Victim now knows that torture won't stop no matter what and has no reason now whatever to tell the truth. Torturer is compelled to continue. Process stops when bomb goes off or victim collapses.

Am I crazy? Why is it never presented this way as this much the most likely dynamic?

Victor Hansen: Very well put. I wish I knew the answer.


Helena, Mont.: If we let terrorists know how we will interrogate them, won't they have sufficient data to develop techniques to diminish the effectiveness of our interrogation techniques? Doesn't giving terrorists that kind of data make ticking-time bomb scenarios more likely? And isn't torture justified in a ticking-time bomb scenario, anyway (so who cares whether it is secret; after all, Israel does it)?

Victor Hansen: How much more secure is Israel at the end of the day? Have they prevented devastating terrorist attacks?

_______________________ Thank you all for joining us today.


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