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Retired Military Generals Criticize President Bush for Preparing to Veto Anti-Torture Bill

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The former Chief Judge of the US Army Court of Criminal Appeals, Brigadier General James Cullen, and Marine Maj. Gen. Fred Haynes discuss their opposition to torture and why they feel the use of torture threatens national security. Last month, they joined forty other retired US military leaders to urge the Senate to approve the torture ban. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: President Bush is expected to veto a bill this month that would limit interrogation of prisoners in the so-called “war on terror” to techniques approved by the Army Field Manual. Approval of the measure would effectively outlaw the use of several CIA techniques many have described as torture. The Army manual specifically bans waterboarding, mock executions, the use of electric shocks, beatings, forcing prisoners to perform sexual acts and depriving prisoners of necessary food, water or medical care. President Bush says the Army rules are too restrictive.

Bush is expected to withstand Democratic attempts to override his veto. The President has enough Republican support in the Senate, including from Republican presidential candidate and self-described torture opponent Senator John McCain.

Some of the most vocal criticism of the Bush administration’s stance on torture has come from former military leaders who say torture is not just immoral but counterproductive. Two of those former military leaders join us today.

AMY GOODMAN: Brigadier General James Cullen is the former Chief Judge of the US Army Court of Criminal Appeals. He currently practices here in New York City. We’re also joined by Marine Major General Fred Haynes. He’s a combat veteran of World War II, of Iwo Jima, of Korea and Vietnam. He was a captain in the regiment that raised the American flag in Iwo Jima in February 1945, also served as Pentagon Director for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Major General Haynes is author of a forthcoming book called The Lions of Iwo Jima.

And we welcome you to Democracy Now!, both of you. I was listening to a program last night — I was at a program where the both of you spoke, at Human Rights First, against torture. General Haynes, you told a remarkable story. And I’d like you to start with that.


What I told last night is the story of a prisoner by the name of Taizo Sakai. To set the background, two of our men had been wounded and pulled into caves, apparently, by the Japanese.



On Iwo Jima. This was about the 10th or 11th of March of 1945, about halfway through the battle. Their bodies were found some several days later. One of them had — his fingers had been broken and his forearms, and the other one had been used as an ashtray. His torso was full of cigarette burns. Well, any occurrence of this sort goes through the rank-and-file very quickly, even in battle.

On the 17th of March, a Japanese soldier walked out of a cave with a surrender leaflet in his hand and surrendered to a young lieutenant by the name of Candy Johnson. Candy was a little unsure as to what to do with the prisoner, so he called his company commander, Fiorenzo Lopardo, who came and joined him, and the three of them looked at each other wondering what to say, because they didn’t seem to have a common language.

AMY GOODMAN: They were also extremely upset. I mean, so many of your men had been killed, and he, himself, Candy Johnson, had been shot through the helmet.


That is correct. Candy had been hit. His helmet had been hit up here, and the bullet had gone through and missed his scalp. And he would have been justified in shooting the prisoner dead, thinking that he had been set up for a sniper shot, but he didn’t. He, Candy, then turned the prisoner over to his company commander.

But they were standing there thinking what to say, and the prisoner said in very good French, “Do you speak French?” And Lopardo was a graduate of Notre Dame and had studied French for three or four years, and he said yes. So the two of them began to talk.

It turned out that the prisoner was the chief code clerk for the commanding general of the Japanese forces, and he helped Lopardo clear several caves. And as soon as the senior echelons found out we had this fellow, with all of his knowledge, he was immediately whisked back to Washington, D.C. and became one of the most valuable prisoners that we captured. My unit only captured sixteen prisoners during the entire battle.

But it simply — you know, the moral of the story is, if you treat prisoners humanely — you don’t have to mollycoddle them, but if you treat them right, you get good, actionable intelligence. And my conviction came from that experience. And I’ve always followed that throughout my entire career.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Of course, the Bush administration argues that this is not a classic war, it is a war against irregular terrorists, and that the same rules no longer apply, given the ability of such terrorists to create such havoc and lethal attacks on American civilians. What’s your response?


Well, my response is that that’s wrong. I think that it doesn’t make any difference whether it’s a war of insurgents or whether we’re against uniformed people or whatnot. Any action of that sort — that is, of torture — is inhumane. It’s against moral law, in my judgment. And as General Cullen can tell you, it’s against international and national law.

AMY GOODMAN: General Cullen, why don’t you talk about torture in the United States and that justification that has been used for torture?


Well, we hear a lot of arguments to try to justify practices — under newspeak are called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but we know exactly what we’re talking about. It’s torture in different packaging. We hear the argument, as you mentioned, that we’re in a new paradigm, and the old rules don’t apply. Anyone who managed to stay awake through high school history classes knows, as we have fought other insurgencies, from the Philippines and Vietnam and other places, the rules do apply. We’re not facing something new. As we go back in our history, we look at President Lincoln through General Eisenhower, they all faced far greater threats to our nation than what we’re looking at today. And yet, they held the line, and they were very clear in their direction that we are going to act properly in accordance with the rule of law.

We also hear the argument that, well, the other side doesn’t obey the rule of law, so why should we? The point is, we’re not naive enough to think that the Taliban is suddenly going to wake up in the morning and change their practices. But what is important from a military effectiveness point of view is that we reach the people upon whom the Taliban and al-Qaeda and all their ilk depend. It’s the taxi drivers, it’s the fruit venders, it’s the mother who is sick and tired of seeing children and other innocents blown up on the street. Those are the people who are going to give us actionable intelligence, unless we so turn them off by our practices, by the things that were revealed at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, that they don’t want to come to us. So it becomes a matter of national security as to how we treat prisoners, how do we develop our intelligence. And torture is just a stupid way of going about it.


I think one of the things that we have to remember is that I think — and I think General Cullen and I are in agreement on this — we have lost a great deal of our well-gained prestige in the world as a result of some of these practices. And we feel that we can regain that simply by following a good set of instructions, and that happens to be the Army interrogation manual. It’s a very good one. And everybody ought to play by the same tune.

JUAN GONZALEZ: General Cullen, your sense of the impact within the military, among officers and enlisted men, of this policy and of the corrosive effects of this policy on military morale?


Well, I think the one thing that the military abhors is ambiguity. When you send that young trooper out into the field to do a mission, you need to be absolutely clear as to what his parameters are going to be, what is permitted, what is not permitted. I analogize it to the parent who gives the keys to the family car to the teenager for the first time. That parent lays down some pretty clear rules. There’s no ambiguities. There’s no qualifications. There’s no subtleties. There’s no cross-references. The rules are quite clear. And in the absence of ambiguity, we get ourselves into trouble. That’s the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you spoken with the current presidential candidates?


Yes, both of us have.

AMY GOODMAN: General Haynes.


We spoke with all of the original Democratic candidates, and we were able to speak with one of the Republicans, Senator — or Governor Huckabee. I think, in general, we have had a good impact. And as a matter of fact, Mrs. Clinton came back and Senator Biden did for a second time to spend an hour or so with us.

What we have said to them is pretty straightforward. We have simply said that in your inaugural address, among other things, you ought to simply say quietly, “We’re going to close Guantanamo. We’re not going to have any more renditions to countries that torture. And we are not going to have” — and the third one was, I forget .

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me ask this. President Bush expected to veto the bill that would limit interrogation of prisoners to techniques approved by the Army Field Manual. Bush is expected to withstand Democratic attempts to override the veto. The President has enough Republican support, including a man who was a torture victim himself, John McCain, the Republican nominee now for president. General Cullen?


Senator McCain has really established the gold standard, as far as we were concerned, in pushing very courageously, in my view, what was initially called the McCain Amendment, and it became the Detainee Treatment Act. And he undertook that with our active encouragement and support, even though he said to us and his staff said to us, at the beginning, he gave it very little chance of passage. But nevertheless, he resisted the efforts of Mr. Cheney and others to get him to back off. So I can only suspect that he is under considerable pressure from elements within his own party during the campaign season. I like to think, and I believe I’m right, that if he were to be elected, that his personal views, formed on personal experience, is going to be against torture.

AMY GOODMAN: And Mukasey, the Attorney General now, saying that he cannot say waterboarding is torture?


That’s astonishing.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. I want to thank you both for being with us. We’ve been speaking with Brigadier General James Cullen, a retired former chief judge of the US Army Court of Criminal Appeals, as well as General Fred Haynes, and his book is — that’s coming out — The Lions of Iwo Jima. I want to thank you both for being with us.

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