Reflections on the Army, Torture and General Sanchez

It is a cold and icy morning in DC and as I slipped and skidded my way to work I clutched the latest copy of Atlantic Monthly.  There are two must reads in the issue for those really interested in national security and terrorism, but for me they read as two parts of the same story.

The first is a survey finding that the best officers in the Army continue to leave after reaching company grade ranks:

“An exclusive survey of West Point graduates shows that it’s not just money. Increasingly, the military is creating a command structure that rewards conformism and ignores merit.”

The January/February 2011 issue of the Atlantic Monthly.

The best and the brightest are serving but they are also leaving.  The civilian sector is filled with great leaders who have served at all ranks of the military and sadly the military’s loss is society’s gain.  But it is an important bellwether when great young people are driven out, and they leave not necessarily because they are lured by better offers, or because of fatigue with multiple deployments, but as a sign of their confidence in the system and who the system chooses to promote.

There are cycles in the life of all institutions and when an organization hits a trough, it often reflects poor leadership at the top, cynicism, and a sense of being part of what General Edward Meyer once called “a hollow army”.

The second piece is another ode to fate of General Ricardo Sanchez.  (Truth in advertising – General Sanchez has backed a truth commission which Amnesty International also supports, and he has at times shared a stage with Amnesty supporters.)

There are aspects to his story that strike a chord; his admirable all American rise from very humble roots to be the highest ranking Hispanic officer of his generation, both of which speak to the Army’s relative meritocracy, and his personal determination.  Unfortunately my admiration stops there. Ricardo Sanchez was complicit in one of the worst abuses in recent US military history, and worse, was part of an effort to sweep it under the carpet.

While he has acknowledged the need for accountability up the chain above him, and supported the need for a commission, he appears to have forgotten about his own substantial role in the occupation of Iraq and the abuses that followed.  The transfer of interrogation techniques, including the use of dogs, from GTMO to Abu Ghraib happened on his watch and with his blessing.  According to the Senate Armed Services Committee report on the treatment of detainees:

“Interrogation policies approved by Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, which included the use of military working dogs and stress positions, were a direct cause of detainee abuse in Iraq. “

The US military is many things, but it is not a rogue or ill disciplined organization, it is the reverse.  It is for that reason that Abu Ghraib will always remain a strain on the US reputation, because we have never fully addressed the lie that it was entirely the work, the imagination and the actions of a few bad apples on a boring night shift.

As the bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee Report carefully noted in December 2008, the culture, the direction and the policies set by the Administration and the Rumsfeld Defense Department, at the highest reaches, fed and nurtured and fostered the abuse at the bottom.

“The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own.  Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at GTMO.  Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody.  What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.”

The military is an organization built on the skeleton of the chain of command, and his part in the corruption of that chain is the lasting legacy of Ricardo Sanchez.  He was not alone, nor was he the most, nor the least culpable.  But when you assume any position of authority, along with that authority comes responsibility for your actions, and for those of your subordinates.  Your wishes are their actions and their acts are your responsibility.  When you look into the faces and conduct of your subordinates, you look into a mirror, and what you see is a reflection of your character and your leadership.

When he looks in the mirror I wonder what General Sanchez sees?

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12 thoughts on “Reflections on the Army, Torture and General Sanchez

  1. When General Sanchez looks in the mirror he has nothing to be (nor should he) to be ashamed of.

    Some of the finest Military Officers choose different paths and for different reasons.

    Far more officers are passed for promotion or filtered out as others climb the ranks. Many applicants for Commission in the U.S. Military are turned down.

    Overall, the Senior Leadership in the U.S. Military (the Army specifically) continues and will always continue to be head and shoulders above civilian sector.

    No anomoly (Abu Ghraib) will change that.

    Fret not… your Military is the best in the world – and this Nation will always be adequately defended!

  2. Mr Allen says Sanchez has "nothing to be ashamed of "… & at the same time calls Abu Ghraib "an anomaly".

    So Sanchez shouldn't be ashamed of Abu Ghraib either … is that what Mr Allen's saying ?

    Sanchez' Sept 14 , 2003 order authorized the use of attack dogs, i hear … later seen in the Abu Ghraib photos.

    Attack dogs in interrogations ?

    A violation of the Geneva Conventions if there's one.

    A mirror's not what he should be looking into … but the inside of a court…. & a prison cell, for years.

    **** ****

    The US army's "the best in the world" ? "Fret not" ??? Is this the JFKesque touch Mr Allen can come up with ?

    When this army's budget is eating up A FULL THIRD of the discretionary US federal spending today ??

    When millions of US jobless & homeless remain deprived so this army can fight trillion dollar wars & be maintained across its thousand bases around the world ??

    & Mr Allen can smugly say this army is "adequately defending the nation" … when this army's eating up that very "nation's" Social Security & old age pensions ??

    "Fret not" ? The poor aren't fretting …. they're hungering & shivering in ruinous poverty across the growing stretches of Third World America.

    A fine way to "defend" a nation, i say … by bankrupting its people with your army's wars & your rocketing military spending !!

  3. When General Sanchez looks in the mirror he has nothing to be (nor should he) to be ashamed of.

    Some of the finest Military Officers choose different paths and for different reasons.

    Far more officers are passed for promotion or filtered out as others climb the ranks. Many applicants for Commission in the U.S. Military are turned down.

    Overall, the Senior Leadership in the U.S. Military (the Army specifically) continues and will always continue to be head and shoulders above civilian sector.

    No anomoly (Abu Ghraib) will change that.

    Fret not… your Military is the best in the world – and this Nation will always be adequately defended!

  4. Mr Allen says Sanchez has “nothing to be ashamed of “… & at the same time calls Abu Ghraib “an anomaly”.

    So Sanchez shouldn’t be ashamed of Abu Ghraib either … is that what Mr Allen’s saying ?

    Sanchez’ Sept 14 , 2003 order authorized the use of attack dogs, i hear … later seen in the Abu Ghraib photos.

    Attack dogs in interrogations ?

    A violation of the Geneva Conventions if there’s one.

    A mirror’s not what he should be looking into … but the inside of a court…. & a prison cell, for years.

    **** ****

    The US army’s “the best in the world” ? “Fret not” ??? Is this the JFKesque touch Mr Allen can come up with ?

    When this army’s budget is eating up A FULL THIRD of the discretionary US federal spending today ??

    When millions of US jobless & homeless remain deprived so this army can fight trillion dollar wars & be maintained across its thousand bases around the world ??

    & Mr Allen can smugly say this army is “adequately defending the nation” … when this army’s eating up that very “nation’s” Social Security & old age pensions ??

    “Fret not” ? The poor aren’t fretting …. they’re hungering & shivering in ruinous poverty across the growing stretches of Third World America.

    A fine way to “defend” a nation, i say … by bankrupting its people with your army’s wars & your rocketing military spending !!

  5. Mr. Savage:

    Neither the U.S. Military nor the Army OWN the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan as your last sentence "your army's wars & your rocketing military spending" would suggest. If you take issue with the wars take it up with Congress {approved use of military force} and both President Bush and Obama. The military doesn't decide to go to war, it doesn't decide how long to stay, how much it spends or what it's budget will be.

    Your diatribe blaming the military and it's members for the wars and for poverty in the U.S. would have bee laughable, if not so offensive.

    Additionally, according to the unbiased Congressional Budget Office – Defense Spending is approximately 20%… while Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security are approximately 54%. And besides that – it is the Department of Defense that will begin to have it's budget cut more than any other. ALL Gov't employees (including Department of Defense Civilians) will see the pay freeze for two years. Those in the military will see the smallest pay raise in 60 years. The number of General Officers and Senior Executives in the Department of Defense are about to be reduced. I hope this is only a start and I hope the gravy train doesn't continue for all the other Gov't Agencies where hard earned tax dollars go to die.

    On to your claim about U.S. Poverty. The standard of living in the U.S. is the envy of the majority of the rest of the world. Most families considered to be living in poverty in the U.S. are also the envy of most of the rest of the world. Below are some facts about U.S. families considered to be living in poverty:

    Forty-three percent of all poor households actually own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.
    Eighty percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, in 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
    Only 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.
    The average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)
    Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 31 percent own two or more cars.
    Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.
    Seventy-eight percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.
    Eighty-nine percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and more than a third have an automatic dishwasher.

    As far as General Sanchez goes – The best you got is him signing off on the use of dogs during interogation? Our enemy (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for instance) ties people up and slowly severs the head from the rest of the body. They conspire to kill thousands and thousands of completely innocent civilians or "infidels" — and if given the chance would never stop.

    General Sanchez' crime is authorizing the use of dogs during interogation.

    Give me a break.

  6. Mr. Savage:

    Neither the U.S. Military nor the Army OWN the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan as your last sentence “your army’s wars & your rocketing military spending” would suggest. If you take issue with the wars take it up with Congress {approved use of military force} and both President Bush and Obama. The military doesn’t decide to go to war, it doesn’t decide how long to stay, how much it spends or what it’s budget will be.

    Your diatribe blaming the military and it’s members for the wars and for poverty in the U.S. would have bee laughable, if not so offensive.

    Additionally, according to the unbiased Congressional Budget Office – Defense Spending is approximately 20%… while Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security are approximately 54%. And besides that – it is the Department of Defense that will begin to have it’s budget cut more than any other. ALL Gov’t employees (including Department of Defense Civilians) will see the pay freeze for two years. Those in the military will see the smallest pay raise in 60 years. The number of General Officers and Senior Executives in the Department of Defense are about to be reduced. I hope this is only a start and I hope the gravy train doesn’t continue for all the other Gov’t Agencies where hard earned tax dollars go to die.

    On to your claim about U.S. Poverty. The standard of living in the U.S. is the envy of the majority of the rest of the world. Most families considered to be living in poverty in the U.S. are also the envy of most of the rest of the world. Below are some facts about U.S. families considered to be living in poverty:

    Forty-three percent of all poor households actually own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.
    Eighty percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, in 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
    Only 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.
    The average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)
    Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 31 percent own two or more cars.
    Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.
    Seventy-eight percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.
    Eighty-nine percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and more than a third have an automatic dishwasher.

    As far as General Sanchez goes – The best you got is him signing off on the use of dogs during interogation? Our enemy (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for instance) ties people up and slowly severs the head from the rest of the body. They conspire to kill thousands and thousands of completely innocent civilians or “infidels” — and if given the chance would never stop.

    General Sanchez’ crime is authorizing the use of dogs during interogation.

    Give me a break.

  7. Mr Army Officer,

    Your system … not just your military system, but the System you live under … never lets you know the entire picture in which you YOURSELF figure.

    If it did, you'd be like Pat Tillman.

    Like him, you'd start to wake up to the reality, as he was doing before your Army shot him down.

    Like him, you'd become a threat to the powers who control you.

    The system never lets you know about the REAL THINGS … like the real US defense budget & related military spending.

    They tell you the defense budget is $ 534 billion.

    In reality, it's close to a TRILLION a year, now.

    *** ***

    Do your homework like Pat Tillman, Mr Officer.

    You say your US living standards are the world's envy ??

    You're living a dream 30 years too late, Mr Offficer.

    The number of the poor in your country today is the highest in 51 years.

    Do you know the number of your jobless & underemployed ?

    26.8 million !

    The number of your women liable to die during pregnancy ?

    A number greater than in FORTY other countries !

    Number of your HOMELESS ?

    3.5 MILLION.

    Number living on food stamps ?

    FORTY – NINE million.

    Homes estimated to have got foreclosure notices last year ?

    3 million.

    The rich – poor gap in your country ?

    Greater than among ALL Western industrialized countries … greater than those of India, Greece, Spain, or Canada … you rank, in fact, with CAMEROON & COTE D'IVORIE !!

    *** ****

    You pooh pooh Sanchez's oder to use attack dogs on prisoners.

    This shows you YOURSELF think torturing prisoners by mauling them with slavering dogs is "no big deal" …an attitude TYPICAL of "Army Officers" like YOU in your kind of "Army" i presume, Mr "Army Officer" ?

    No, that's not the worst on Sanchez, who arrogantly refused to apologize for the random slaughter of 5 Iraqi civilians by your "Army" in 2003…

    Not to speak of his IGNORANCE OF THE BASICS of strategy & tactics…

    The man said at that time there was NO tactical or strategic risk facing his Army in Iraq …

    & refused "adjustments to our military strategy" in 2007 …

    …but later switched to criticism of the same Iraq stategy, saying America had made no concerted effort to devise a strategy that'll achieve victory !!

    & all the while the dunderhead doesn't know Sun Tzu's ELEMENTARY military truth … that OCCUPYING a land is TANTAMOUNT TO INEVITABLE DEFEAT !!

    *** ***
    You point to Al Qaeda conspiring to kill thousands of Americans.

    Your Army's Iraq war resulted in the deaths of 1.5 million Iraqis & the homelessness of 4 million, are you aware ?

    **** ****

    Your Army doesn't decide on going to war, you say ?

    Don't you even know about Ike's warning abvout the military industrial complex taking over your country & its decisionmaking ? No coincidence Ike cut down your budget & your Army generals' military ambitions !

    Don't you know, as Ike did, your generals are behind the igniting of EVERY war you fight ? They can stop them .. or lead them .

    Don't you see David Petraeus arguing for & enabling endless war in Afghanistan, just as Westmoreland did for Vietnam ?

    & don't tell us your Army "doesn't OWN" its own wars in Iraq & Afghanistan.

    You OWN what you BREAK.

    & that means EVERY country, EVERY society your Army has SMASHED THRU … TO BITS.

  8. Mr Army Officer,

    Your system … not just your military system, but the System you live under … never lets you know the entire picture in which you YOURSELF figure.

    If it did, you’d be like Pat Tillman.

    Like him, you’d start to wake up to the reality, as he was doing before your Army shot him down.

    Like him, you’d become a threat to the powers who control you.

    The system never lets you know about the REAL THINGS … like the real US defense budget & related military spending.

    They tell you the defense budget is $ 534 billion.

    In reality, it’s close to a TRILLION a year, now.

    *** ***

    Do your homework like Pat Tillman, Mr Officer.

    You say your US living standards are the world’s envy ??

    You’re living a dream 30 years too late, Mr Offficer.

    The number of the poor in your country today is the highest in 51 years.

    Do you know the number of your jobless & underemployed ?

    26.8 million !

    The number of your women liable to die during pregnancy ?

    A number greater than in FORTY other countries !

    Number of your HOMELESS ?

    3.5 MILLION.

    Number living on food stamps ?

    FORTY – NINE million.

    Homes estimated to have got foreclosure notices last year ?

    3 million.

    The rich – poor gap in your country ?

    Greater than among ALL Western industrialized countries … greater than those of India, Greece, Spain, or Canada … you rank, in fact, with CAMEROON & COTE D’IVORIE !!

    *** ****

    You pooh pooh Sanchez’s oder to use attack dogs on prisoners.

    This shows you YOURSELF think torturing prisoners by mauling them with slavering dogs is “no big deal” …an attitude TYPICAL of “Army Officers” like YOU in your kind of “Army” i presume, Mr “Army Officer” ?

    No, that’s not the worst on Sanchez, who arrogantly refused to apologize for the random slaughter of 5 Iraqi civilians by your “Army” in 2003…

    Not to speak of his IGNORANCE OF THE BASICS of strategy & tactics…

    The man said at that time there was NO tactical or strategic risk facing his Army in Iraq …

    & refused “adjustments to our military strategy” in 2007 …

    …but later switched to criticism of the same Iraq stategy, saying America had made no concerted effort to devise a strategy that’ll achieve victory !!

    & all the while the dunderhead doesn’t know Sun Tzu’s ELEMENTARY military truth … that OCCUPYING a land is TANTAMOUNT TO INEVITABLE DEFEAT !!

    *** ***
    You point to Al Qaeda conspiring to kill thousands of Americans.

    Your Army’s Iraq war resulted in the deaths of 1.5 million Iraqis & the homelessness of 4 million, are you aware ?

    **** ****

    Your Army doesn’t decide on going to war, you say ?

    Don’t you even know about Ike’s warning abvout the military industrial complex taking over your country & its decisionmaking ? No coincidence Ike cut down your budget & your Army generals’ military ambitions !

    Don’t you know, as Ike did, your generals are behind the igniting of EVERY war you fight ? They can stop them .. or lead them .

    Don’t you see David Petraeus arguing for & enabling endless war in Afghanistan, just as Westmoreland did for Vietnam ?

    & don’t tell us your Army “doesn’t OWN” its own wars in Iraq & Afghanistan.

    You OWN what you BREAK.

    & that means EVERY country, EVERY society your Army has SMASHED THRU … TO BITS.

  9. Everything you say makes so much sense… I guess that is why there is even a debate about securing a border. Things are so bad in the U.S.? Why must we even debate immigration then? Why are so many fleeing home and crossing the border with or without visa? Why do Canadians and Europeans travel to the U.S. to receive the best specialized health care/surgeries that they are unable to obtain at home? (Current laws trying to "fix" this so we get knocked down a couple notches)

    You go on and on about unemployment, food stamps, women that die during pregnacy and homelessness and claim somehow this all goes back to the military. There are hundreds of factors – and military spending is none of them.

    Gen Sanchez never approved dogs actually attacking people. Instances of misuse (cases where dogs actually injured people) are appaling and if I have had any direct knowledge of anything like it happening I'd report it.

    Keep fighting for what you believe and believe the "FACTS" that you are fed.
    If there is a place more attractive in this world to live in – go there and spew your garbage from behind your keyboard.

    If you stay, enjoy your freedom and liberty while it lasts. I hope you will, but I'm guessing you will always be a grumpy, disgruntled old man. Add a feeling of foolishness to that as (perhaps to your chagrin) democracy continues to take root in Afghanistan, Iraq and as neighboring Nations in the middle east begin to see the light.

  10. Everything you say makes so much sense… I guess that is why there is even a debate about securing a border. Things are so bad in the U.S.? Why must we even debate immigration then? Why are so many fleeing home and crossing the border with or without visa? Why do Canadians and Europeans travel to the U.S. to receive the best specialized health care/surgeries that they are unable to obtain at home? (Current laws trying to “fix” this so we get knocked down a couple notches)

    You go on and on about unemployment, food stamps, women that die during pregnacy and homelessness and claim somehow this all goes back to the military. There are hundreds of factors – and military spending is none of them.

    Gen Sanchez never approved dogs actually attacking people. Instances of misuse (cases where dogs actually injured people) are appaling and if I have had any direct knowledge of anything like it happening I’d report it.

    Keep fighting for what you believe and believe the “FACTS” that you are fed.
    If there is a place more attractive in this world to live in – go there and spew your garbage from behind your keyboard.

    If you stay, enjoy your freedom and liberty while it lasts. I hope you will, but I’m guessing you will always be a grumpy, disgruntled old man. Add a feeling of foolishness to that as (perhaps to your chagrin) democracy continues to take root in Afghanistan, Iraq and as neighboring Nations in the middle east begin to see the light.