In UCLA Debut, Wesley Clark Critiques US Torture Policy

October 2, 2006

From remarks by Gen. Wesley K. Clark   on practical benefits of the Geneva Conventions:

On the one hand, because of who we are and what we represent our soldiers have received a privileged status. On the other hand, all the cruelty in the world doesn’t by itself break the spirit, break the will to resist, or end a fight; in fact, it strengthens and hardens resolve.

On effective interrogations:

I don’t know where the desire to resort to rough methods comes from.…Look, if you put people under pressure, some will talk. The less disciplined they are, the less cohesive the organization, the more they’ll talk; and the less pain you need. The more disciplined, the more cohesive, the less likely it is you’ll break them….

If you look at Al Qaeda, although they’re getting financial assistance from all over the world, they’re not living in mansions. They’re not really getting rich. Apparently Osama bin Laden, despite the fact that he has several wives, lives in caves. There’s reason to believe they’re a pretty tough, hardened organization. So you can’t anticipate that they’re going to break under pressure easily.

What we have found in our experience in interrogation over centuries in armed forces worldwide is that you have to get people to talk voluntarily….

The Yemenis have gone so far with Al Qaeda as actually having imams come in and doing “deprogramming,” and actually arguing with terrorists…[with] some success. Then, of course, they apologize, they blurt out everything you want, and you can believe it.

On torture and U.S. military values:

We thought we were in this uniform because we stood for something. We stood for what was right, what was fair, what was just: we didn’t torture people. I certainly wouldn’t have stayed in an armed forces or worked with a government that I thought was doing the same skulduggery that the Soviets and the rest of them were doing. That’s what we were against. How can it be that we think we can condone that kind of stuff now?

Torture not justified because there are “bad people”:

We’ve heard that argument. We heard it in Argentina with the desaparecidos. We’ve heard it all over Latin America. We’ve heard it in Europe. We read it in novels. We know enough, surely, not to trust it. We’ve seen it in history. We’ve seen great empires like Rome lose their moral authority totally when they departed from humane standards of treatment.

On geo-strategic grounds for following international norms:

We’ve got to have allies to help us win this war on terror. The only way those countries work with us is through our moral legitimacy. We shaped the post-Cold War environment. It was America that led the effort to create the Geneva Conventions. And now we’re walking away from it? What happened to that shining beacon that was America when we can walk away from the very values that we’ve espoused?

And then there’s the future…. There will come a time when maybe America isn’t the only superpower, and maybe not even the preeminent superpower. If you look at the economic map—assuming that we can get a grip on challenges like global warming—then it’s reasonable to expect that India and China…will at some point have at least equal and maybe greater capacity than the United States. I’m not trying in any way to diminish what we consider exceptional about America, but it’s just a reality that scale is one of the most important laws in economics. And they’ve got scale on us. And we’ve got to set rules of international behavior that work to our interest, that other nations will agree with and voluntarily adopt as their own. I like to think of these as the Golden Rules of international behavior: do unto others as you’d have them do unto you

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