Tuesday, October 26, 2010

One Last Point of View

Although we clearly exhausted the Wikileaks topic in class yesterday and the media has obsessed over it for far too long, I want to take one more approach that has been overlooked by those making arguments for and against it. As we know, the documents leaked were mostly reports that are generated by patrol leaders as they conduct debriefs after a mission. They pass on all raw data they collected from citizens, leaders and sources and pass it on to the intelligence shop to analyze it and connect the dots with other intel that has been collected. Major incidents such as Troops in Contact (TIC), IEDs, VBIEDs, market bombings and the like are also passed on in the same debriefs where the format does not require an in-depth explanation of the cause of every civilian casualty or fatality unless it is controversial and an investigation is opened. Civilian casualties do occur frequently and are a sad and tragic byproduct of war as it often has an emotional impact on the soldiers involved.

The Rules of Engagement given to soldiers are created by senior leadership to provide strict guidelines for proper escalation of force and it strictly defines when it is okay to use it. Unconventional warfare is fought in a highly complex environment where the enemy blurs the line everyday and so leaders must give their soldiers reassurance that they will be protected as long as they abide by the ROE. A split second of hesitation by a soldier is all it takes for something to go horribly wrong and even the most highly trained forces will make the wrong decision from time to time. This reassurance is the best way to uphold the integrity of our soldiers though as it helps eliminate the desire to use drop guns (a spare AK-47 carried around by a unit to place by an accidental civilian casualty), lie about events, and cover up the truth. ROE is not a fix all but it keeps most soldiers in line.

This relates to the Wikileaks documents because of the unfiltered access the public now has to these raw briefs. They don’t know that commanders have thoroughly reviewed the events or what the exact circumstances were on the ground. All that is known is a number of casualties and a best estimation of how it happened. The potential for public outcry as they delve into these reports could have a dramatic impact. How much would it take to convince the right Congressman that an investigation should be opened up?

We risk the loss of trust that is placed on military leaders to police their own and to create effective tactical guidelines to minimize casualties. This degradation of trust is passed down the line as soldiers no longer feel that reassurance when they follow the ROE. They worry instead about how the public thousands of miles away would react if they don’t view his actions as proper. We defeat the purpose of the ROE and increase risks to our soldiers when we blur the military/civilian lines as leaking raw debriefs has.

3 comments:

Cassandra said...

Hasn't trust in military leaders already been eroded by instances like the Tillman affair and the "kill team" in which the leaders deliberately covered an embarrassing event, or, in the second case, failed to respond to signs of something terribly wrong going on?

Military leaders cannot expect to be free from criticism. A once popular war is no longer so, whether anything could have been done better or not military leaders report to the president who is supposed to be beholden to the public.

hairyscruffywalkingstick said...

My point is not to protect military leaders from criticism or their responsibilities as leaders. I mean only to point out the lack of faith in the ROE that results from every single action taken by a soldier being subjected to the scrutiny of a public that hasn't been in their shoes and doesn't know the circumstances they operate in.
As for Tillman and the kill team, both were discovered by investigations conducted by the Army. They are not excusable by any means but they would also not have come out simply because the mission debriefs were available to the public.

Dotty Hoddy said...

I think the following article states the need for secrecy in order to maintain security (aka OPSEC) very well. This is not a comment with regard to the Tillman affair, but to the need for non-exposure of military operations until they are properly declassified in 25 years' time.

Sir John Sawers, the chief of Britain's overseas intelligence services, known as MI6, spoke publicly about his organization's refusal to use torture and its need for secrecy in order to maintain security. It was the first public speech by a serving head of MI6 in the agency's 101-year history.

Sawers referred to torture as "illegal and abhorrent." But he also discussed the tradeoffs involved in this position. "If we know or believe action by us will lead to torture taking place, we're required by UK and international law to avoid that action, and we do, even though that allows that terrorist activity to go ahead," he said.

He also said that MI6 had an obligation to make sure that the foreign intelligence services it works with would also respect human rights. However, he acknowledged this task was "not always straightforward." He noted that intelligence officers can be faced with the dilemma of handing over valuable intelligence, which may be used to arrest and torture a suspect, or keeping the information to themselves, which may cause innocent people to lose their lives.

Sawers, who delivered his remarks at the Society of Editors in London, said that he was going public now to shed light on what he said was not always a fully informed public debate about MI6's activities. Nevertheless, he used much of his remarks to defend the necessity of keeping's much of the agency's actions outside the public eye. "Secrecy is not a dirty word," he said. "Secrecy is not there as a cover-up. Secrecy plays a crucial part in keeping Britain safe and secure."

"British intelligence chief, in historic appearance, condemns torture", The FP Morning Brief, 28 October 2010.