Being nice to Prisoners of War

Scott Gerwehr and Nina Hachigian from the RAND corporation have written an article in The New York Times about a Prisoner of War program that America used during the Vietnam war that was incredibly effective (In Iraq's Prisons, Try a Little Tenderness)

Basically they argue that treating POWs and suspected insurgents nicely and with respect is much more likely to work than the current system of abuse. They base their argument on the studies of the Vietnam war program called Chieu Hoi:

Under Chieu Hoi, defectors and prisoners who proved cooperative received clemency against treason charges as well as good food, health care, vocational training and jobs. At the same time, they were systematically indoctrinated with literature, classes and activities to persuade them to support the South Vietnamese government.

Studies carried out during the war by the RAND Corporation found that thousands of those former enemies who participated in Chieu Hoi became good sources of intelligence on the Communist forces, provided American advisers and troops with cultural and linguistic knowledge, enlisted civilians to support the American cause, and even took up arms against their former Vietcong and North Vietnamese comrades.

One unidentified Marine officer quoted in a 1973 RAND study said that a Chieu Hoi participant named Truong Kinh, who worked as a scout with his division, killed 55 Vietcong and North Vietnamese fighters in a single day, saving American lives and gaining "the admiration and respect of every marine in the company."

Captured enemy documents now in the archives of the Army Special Operations Command discuss the powerful effect of Chieu Hoi on the enemy. One Vietcong report from 1966 says: "The impact of increased enemy military operations and 'Chieu Hoi' programs has, on the whole, resulted in lowering of morale of some ideologically backward men, who often listen to enemy radio broadcasts, keep in their pockets enemy leaflets, and wait to be issued weapons. This attitude on their part has generated an atmosphere of doubt and mistrust among our military ranks." The Vietcong feared the program, and expended a great deal of effort in attempting to thwart it through assassinations, infiltration and counterpropaganda.

...American forces in Iraq would have nothing to lose in applying this basic psychology and developing a pilot program based on Chieu Hoi. It is an inexpensive and nonviolent approach that can aid the counterinsurgency: there are some 10,000 prisoners being held in Iraq, and "turning" even a small fraction of them could reap huge dividends in terms of gaining intelligence for our forces, diminishing support for the insurgents and reducing anti-American sentiment among average Iraqis.

In addition, running our prisons under the Chieu Hoi model could help reverse the terrible propaganda defeat suffered with the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib. Nongovernmental groups like the International Red Cross and Amnesty International would praise America, bringing more international support. And prisoners released by our forces would return to their communities with stories of American generosity and tolerance, increasing support for the United States' efforts.

Some Americans would undoubtedly criticize a program that treated prisoners and defectors well, arguing that insurgents who kill our men and women do not deserve kindness. This is understandable: during the Vietnam War, Chieu Hoi was often derided as "rest and recreation for the enemy." But we are up against a determined insurgency; a desire for retribution should not be allowed to stand in the way of effective policy and our ultimate success in Iraq.

Sounds like a great idea. But, as I've said elsewhere, America often makes decisions from a position of pride rather than upon pragmatism. Abu Ghraib came about because of this pride. Chieu Hoi came about because of pragmatism.

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