Admiral Gunn on Truth Inquiry: “We have to find out what happened… to provide clear, unambiguous guidance on the front line.”

Yesterday Admiral Lee Gunn, a member of HRF’s coalition of military leaders, testified at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on a commission of inquiry. Here is his testimony:

Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be a part of this esteemed panel and to have an opportunity to talk about this important issue.

In addition to the other things you mentioned that I’m involved in, I’ve been a member for the last three-plus years of a group of 49 retired flag and general officers who have spoken extensively on the issue of detainee treatment and its importance both to the men and women in the military and for the men and women in their execution of their duties.

I’d like to talk a little bit about that and, in doing that, elaborate on the written testimony that I have submitted.

I’d like to say at the outset that my views are those of a sailor, conveying concerns about the serious problems created for servicemen and women by choices made in Washington over the last seven years. So what are those problems?

Strained alliances comes first in my list. And in this day and age, the American military operates by itself almost never in the world. And the importance of being able to work with our allies and our friends cannot be overstressed.

Confusion about detainee treatment, number two on my list, means to me that we have provided unclear guidance. That is, choices made in Washington have resulted in guidance that was not clear, that was in many cases ambiguous, and in some cases was flat wrong about the requirement to treat detainees humanely and in accordance with international conventions and the Geneva Convention, in particular, and also
with American law.

Third on my list is exposure to greater risk of abuse if those soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen are captured. Now, no one is going to — we’re not kidding ourselves that our opponents, our enemy will be inclined to treat our people humanely if they fall into enemy hands. On the other hand, it’s important that we be able to mobilize international opinion in support of people taken by our enemy and the treatment of them in a humane way.

We have, as Ambassador Pickering mentioned, furnished extremists with recruiting materials extensively. And that is a consequence that we should have envisioned when we made many of the choices about how we were going to — to act and how we were going to talk about how we acted.

And, finally, in the problems list is that we further damage the reputations of Americans who are working in this new realm of winning hearts and minds and trying to convince people that America has ideals and ideas to which they should subscribe. And we have disadvantaged our military people who’ve been involved in that, and I would argue that we’ve similarly disadvantaged the other members of the American administration, other public servants in that regard, as well.

We’re not done.

And that’s why I think that we need a serious inquiry into the way we’ve behaved for the last seven years and the kind of orders we’ve given and decisions we’ve made.

The enemy is still the enemy. The stress on our people in uniform and out who are charged with dealing with this enemy will continue. The pressure on our country and her leaders will remain. And we need to understand the circumstances under which choices were made by leaders in the past in order that we can anticipate those same circumstances or others in the future and avoid making what we consider to be mistakes.

So the question is, to me, what’s happened to us? What did we do wrong? What did we do right? And I’d like to mention that the military examines itself often and in depth. We do that with after-action reviews and hot wash-ups following exercises and operations. We do it with in-depth studies when those are called for. We conduct Uniform Code of Military Justice investigations, as I know you’re well aware, Mr. Chairman. And we conduct aviation safety investigations and examinations, as well.

The last one is kind of an interesting case in which the testimony, seeking the truth and having lives depend on finding the truth, in which the testimony is generally fire-walled completely from legal proceedings that may eventuate from these investigations. But whatever the appropriate means, the services together have to find out what happened and be in a better position in the future to provide the kind of clear, unambiguous guidance that is necessary on the pressure-filled front line and in the detainee treatment arena.

The outcome is that soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, Coast Guardsmen deserve and require that kind of guidance and those orders. Structure is essential to you when you’re under pressure, particularly in combat and also in the elevated tension of taking care of detainees.

American values have to be our test with regard to the application of those orders and that guidance. We have failed American servicemen and women over the last seven years, and we have to stop doing that. We need to do better, and we need to get on with it.

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Published on March 5, 2009

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