Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Brave Are Always Humane

In his 1753-54 novel, The History of Sir Charles Grandison: In a Series of Letters Published from the Originals…, English novelist Samuel Richardson has a character write, “The brave are always humane.”
     The novel either influenced American humanity to prisoners, or informed how they defended kind treatment.  On February 8, 1777, Boston newspaper The Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser printed an account of British Col. Richard Prescott repeatedly insulting and striking an American prisoner, despite the compliance of the prisoner and the objection of Lord Percy (Lt. Gen. Hugh Percy).  The Independent Chronicle editorialized, “We shall leave it to our readers, to make their own reflections on this treatment, and to determine from it, the character of Col. Prescot, and whether it does not indicate him to be a blustering coward; for, according to an established maxim, the brave are always generous, and treat with humanity those, whom the fortune of war has made their prisoners.”
     In his Memoirs of the American War, Major General William Heath recounted the fate of the American soldiers who became prisoners after the surrender of Fort Washington (November 16, 1776).  Heath wrote, “The prisoners were marched to New York; where, being crowded in prisons and sugar houses…they fell sick, and daily died in a most shocking manner.”
     Heath opined, “O ye officers of the provost! to whatever nation or people you belong, when the unfortunate of your fellow-men are thus committed to your charge, clothe yourselves with humanity, and soothe distress as far as in your power; for by this will you secure a better reward than your present wages.”
     Heath advised, “And you who have the honour to command armies, when your victories have filled provosts and prisons, think it not beneath you to visit the prison, that with your own eyes you may see the state of your prisoners: for such visits, the great CAPTAIN OF YOUR SALVATION hath said, shall be considered as made to Himself; while it also gives you a name among men closely allied to that of the conqueror.  The truly brave are always humane.”
     Heath was referencing the 25th chapter of the Gospel According to Matthew, wherein Jesus describes a Judgment Day when the messianic “King” will reject those who never visited him when he was a prisoner.  “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty…or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’” (Matthew 25:44-45, New International Version)

     In the early-twenty-first century, popular culture had a less praiseworthy effect in how Americans discussed the treatment of prisoners.  Gary Solis, who designed and taught the Law of War for Commanders curriculum for the US Military Academy at West Point lamented that his young students constantly referenced Jack Bauer, a fictional character from the Fox Network show 24.  Solis insisted, “Jack Bauer is a criminal.  In real life, he would be prosecuted.” 
     Interrogators for the FBI and the military and even many at the CIA insist that interrogation requires courteous, respectful treatment of prisoners.  Expert interrogator Col. Stuart Herrington also realized the negative influence of 24 after teaching “an auditorium of young Army interrogators” in 2006.  In a 2007 Op-Ed for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette complaining that “our young soldiers  take away lessons from today’s pop culture,” Herrington wrote, “Self-styled ‘experts’ on interrogation frequently city the ‘ticking bomb scenario’ (featured on shows like ‘24’) to justy the Jack Bauer-like tormenting of a prisoner.”  Herrington rejected the ticking time bomb scenario as “a Hollywood construct” that the colonel never encountered in three decades of military interrogation. 
     In November 2006, US Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, dean of West Point, brought three expert interrogators from the military and FBI, along with human rights groups, to visit Joel Surnow, the creator of 24.  The magazine New Yorker Finnegan told the producers that 24 was “hurting efforts to train recruits in effective interrogation techniques and is damaging the image of the U.S. around the world.”  
Post a Comment