Recruiting the enemy

Photo09 An op/ed by me in the Christian Science Monitor.Tln32613

Pat Lang

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19 Responses to Recruiting the enemy

  1. taters says:

    Dear Col. Lang,
    Powerful – and excellent. Thank you.

  2. W. Patrick Lang says:

    The NVA Lt. had been captured in a night time trench raid at Hue. The SVN Marines raided his company looking for prisoners and knocked him out with concussion grenades. He was a tough guy. He had just had enough. pl

  3. John Howley says:

    After you finish the latest from Sy Hersch in this week’s New Yorker (7/10/06), take a look at Lawrence Wright’s article “The Agent: How 9/11 might have been prevented.” (Not available on-line.) The article concludes with the story of how an Arabic-speaking FBI agent flipped an AQ suspect in Yemen a few weeks after 9/11 to make an ID of the hijackers.
    Makes me appreciate why professional interrogators must bang their heads against the wall every time they hear “Guantanamo.”

  4. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I am not a “professional interrogator.” In the intelligence business I spent a lot of time recruiting adversaries. The only time I was an analyst was when I somehow was the head ME analyst at DIA.
    In getting people to work for you the main thing is to be a good listener and “sympatico.” pl

  5. john says:

    Good essay that raises an important question: What the heck was Mr. Bush thinking when he decided to create and publicize a special category of enemy prisoners who are exempt from the provisions of the Geneva Conventions? He relinquished the moral high ground without even a twinge of conscience. I guess I have to file that one with all the others until history inevitably passes judgment.

  6. LCD says:

    About 1,000 years ago when I was in VN a VC prisoner was brought into my camp for medical attention. It appears that a white mouse had pistol-whipped him and cut his head open. While my SF medic was stitching him up, a white mouse officer hit him again. The next thing the white mouse knew was that he had my pistol against his head. I nearly killed him. My only thought was “Not where the US Flag flies, buddy.” I wish I could have bottled the look on the VC prisoner’s face. We turned the VC over to the ARVN and kicked the white mice out of the compound. I guess the lesson learned was that we had leadship throughout the chain of command and the congress that had served in real wars and knew the value of the Geneva conventions.

  7. Curious says:

    ” We needed an enemy officer – an expert resource – to advise our intelligence analysts. We were notified that there was someone in a facility near Saigon who might be interested. I drove out there to see a North Vietnamese lieutenant.
    This actually could be an interesting information to tell us.
    Is the insurgencies leadership in Iraq in the form of a.) traditional guerilla army, b.) al Qaeda cells or c.) local religious militias vying for power.
    Seeing the pattern of attacks over the past 2 years, obviously whoever already flipping to our side doesn’t now what’s going on. (eg. car bombing, green zone attack, supply line attack)
    I start to wonder if there is a way to observe “talibanisation” of Iraq. (eg. breakdown of civil government cohesion, raise of local militia, road blocks/freedom of traveling, educations, etc)
    That is to say, what is the geography of usefullness of the said turncoat. (This can tell a lot about the state of insurgency cohesion)
    If it is over large swath of area (eg. a huge coherent command structure and military characteristic) then the insurgency is “nationalistic” in character (probably old Iraq regimes establishmens are pulling strings)
    but if not, we are toast. Iraq is shattered. (Lebanon, Somalia, Afghanistan, etc)

  8. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Curious is banned for sending me a phony e-mail address. pl

  9. davidS says:

    What’s a white mouse?

  10. W. Patrick Lang says:

    A South Vietnamese civilian policeman. pl

  11. ckrantz says:

    Interesting piece. If you excuse a question have you ever written your personal story. It sounds like it could have the makings of an interesting read.
    When it comes to the question of dealing with captured enemies much of what today is considered interrogation techniques seems to have migrated from the “Resistance and Escape” component of the SERE training into Guantánamo and other places.
    The techniques seem pointless to me with no useful purpose as far as I can see. A broken man will say anything. That information is worthless.

  12. mike says:

    I served with a former VC named Thanh who had been turned by an amnesty program. He was attached to our Marine unit but he was called a Chieu Hoi instead of Kit Carson scout. Not clear to me what the specific difference was, but I heard that the Chieu Hois surrendered under an amnesty program while the Kit Carsons were offered amnesty after they were captured. He was an old man compared to us. He claimed to have served with the Viet Minh against the French and with the Viet Cong against us and the ARVN, but finally came in out of the jungle for his wife and children.
    Anyway he was one heck of a soldier and an asset to our side. Whenever he was on patrol with us we never ran into an ambush. He had a sixth sense, eyes in the back of his head, and he was the guy who found and pointed out booby traps and weapons caches.
    Unfortunately he and I were in a CH-46 helicopter with 12 others that was shot down. We were all burned and were medevacked to the USS Sanctuary. From there I lost touch with him. Under sedation they further transferred me to the burn unit at the Army hospital in Zama Japan. I never did find out what happened to Thanh. But talked to a corpsman once who said that Vietnamese nationals typically were stabilized on the Sanctuary but then transferred to an ARVN hospital in Danang. As I recall his burns were worse than mine so I hope he made it. He was a good man, turncoat or not.

  13. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I hope so too. In using the world turncoat I was trying for irony since these guys were typically such good friends to us. I meant them no disrespect. pl

  14. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I agree with your comment about the SERE program and its connection to the mindless abuse of prisoners. We could have done so much better. pl

  15. mike says:

    Col Lang:
    I took no offense.

  16. confusedponderer says:

    Andrew Bacevich’s recent Op-Ed reflects on the recent allegations of atrocities and the general attitude toward Iraqis.
    “In the early days of the insurgency, some U.S. commanders appeared oblivious to the possibility that excessive force might produce a backlash. They counted on the iron fist to create an atmosphere conducive to good behavior. The idea was not to distinguish between “good” and “bad” Iraqis, but to induce compliance through intimidation.”
    That’s what Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and ‘the gloves are off’ are all about.
    The likely mindset behind it? Bacevich goes on to quote a senior officer from the book ‘Cobra II’ “The only thing these sand niggers understand is force and I’m about to introduce them to it.”
    Bacevich goes on: “As the war enters its fourth year, how many innocent Iraqis have died at American hands, not as a result of Haditha-like massacres but because of accidents and errors? The military doesn’t know and, until recently, has publicly professed no interest in knowing. Estimates range considerably, but the number almost certainly runs in the tens of thousands. Even granting the common antiwar bias of those who track the Iraqi death toll — and granting, too, that the insurgents have far more blood on their hands — there is no question that the number of Iraqi noncombatants killed by U.S. forces exceeds by an order of magnitude the number of U.S. troops killed in hostile action, which is now more than 2,000.
    Who bears responsibility for these Iraqi deaths? The young soldiers pulling the triggers? The commanders who establish rules of engagement that privilege “force protection” over any obligation to protect innocent life? The intellectually bankrupt policymakers who sent U.S. forces into Iraq in the first place and now see no choice but to press on? The culture that, to put it mildly, has sought neither to understand nor to empathize with people in the Arab or Islamic worlds?
    There are no easy answers, but one at least ought to acknowledge that in launching a war advertised as a high-minded expression of U.S. idealism, we have waded into a swamp of moral ambiguity. To assert that “stuff happens,” as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is wont to do whenever events go awry, simply does not suffice.
    Moral questions aside, the toll of Iraqi noncombatant casualties has widespread political implications. Misdirected violence alienates those we are claiming to protect. It plays into the hands of the insurgents, advancing their cause and undercutting our own. It fatally undermines the campaign to win hearts and minds, suggesting to Iraqis and Americans alike that Iraqi civilians — and perhaps Arabs and Muslims more generally — are expendable. Certainly, Nahiba Husayif Jassim’s death helped clarify her brother’s perspective on the war. “God take revenge on the Americans and those who brought them here,” he declared after the incident. “They have no regard for our lives.”
    He was being unfair, of course. It’s not that we have no regard for Iraqi lives; it’s just that we have much less regard for them. The current reparations policy — the payment offered in those instances in which U.S. forces do own up to killing an Iraq civilian — makes the point. The insurance payout to the beneficiaries of an American soldier who dies in the line of duty is $400,000, while in the eyes of the U.S. government, a dead Iraqi civilian is reportedly worth up to $2,500 in condolence payments — about the price of a decent plasma-screen TV.”

  17. confusedponderer says:

    If you have that mindset, that your enemy, the stereotypical bad Iraqi, haji, is vermin who only understands force, you don’t try to persuade him to join your side, you try to submit him.
    Contrast that thinking to the sort of liaision and civic action by US special forces in Vietnam, or PL’s description of how he brought this NVA Lt. over. And still, there was this part of the US military to whom Vietnamese were mere ‘gooks’, and fought a war of attrition.
    Like making peace requires making a deal with the enemy, so does persuading enemies to come over. In the age of the Bush doctrine the US either kills or locks up all the bad people in real bad places like Bagram, Abu Ghraib and Gitmo or some other gulag. ‘That’ll teach’em. Don’t mess with us!’
    Just think of the fuss in the US about an amnesty for insurgents in Iraq: ‘Former enemies now fighting on our side? Hey, they might have killed *Americans*! No amnesty! String’em up!’
    There is no place for ambiguity in Bush world.
    My impression is that when dealing with so-called ‘colateral damage’ the US administration’s primary concern seems to be avoiding bad press, rather than genuine concern about civilian casualties.
    All that cannot be lost on the Iraqis. They aren’t stupid. They hear the lofty US rhetoric, see their actions not catching up, again and again, and draw their own conclusions. The biggest problem for the US is that they have lost control of the Iraqi narrative of the war, if they ever had it.
    Bacevich is right: Sadly, unless the US demonstrate by their actions that they value Iraqi lives as much as the lives of US troops, their failure is certain.

  18. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Glad you got the point.
    I never heard anyone call the Vietnamese “Gooks.” I must have led a sheltered life. Maybe that was a marine thing. I remember that North Koreans were called “gooks” during that war. In my experience Vietnamese in general were called “zips,” or “zipperheads.” Enemy soldiers were referred to as “dinks.” “Charlie” for the VC. “Charles” sometimes for the NVA. (more class)but not “gooks.”
    You have to remember that in VN there was the counter-insurgency war that I was involved with most of the time and then there was the force on force war in the bush between the NVA and main US forces. The NVA had six or seven divisions and several separate regiments in country. These were big, strong regular units (5,000 to 9,000 men per division) They had artillery and tanks and modern comms. If it had not been for the “attritional war” against these units they would simply have exterminated the “nation builders.” pl

  19. confusedponderer says:

    I understand that, and I am certain that in Iraq and Afghanistan it isn’t any different.
    In my view the attritionists are pretty much Fred Reed’s ‘Warriors’. In a sense ‘they only understand force’ is a mere extension of ‘shock and awe’, or vice versa. What’s bugging me is that it seems so very difficult to make the attritionists understand that they are not alone on the battlefield.
    I understand that in counterinsurgency it’s beside the point how successful they persuade themselves (and their domestic audience) how great they are.
    The delusion they share with the politicos who brought the US into Iraq seems to be the belief that overwhelming firepower and technological advantage can change an enemy’s mind.

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