history will judge whether his confidence in his own abilities is warranted, black and white spring, recruiting in 1791

The president recently presented his new National Security Strategy. No one watched it, but the speech President Obama gave at West Point gave the nation the highlights. On the other hand the details are a fine tuned version of the Bush doctrine, The Obama-Gates Department of Detentions

This passage in the National Security Strategy makes clear that Barack Obama and his team have abandoned the promises they made to reform detentions policy in the 2008 campaign. Even the commitment to stop torture does not appear to have been fully implemented, given the unaccountable practices of JSOC and the DIA in Afghanistan. Barack Obama’s belief in the rule of law apparently takes the back seat to Barack Obama’s belief in his own ability to make the right call as executive. History will judge whether his confidence in his own abilities is warranted, but the distortion of the constitutional system presents a continuing challenge for those who believe in the older and more fundamental principle of accountability under the law.

One redeeming aspect of the change in administrations has been president Obama’s promise not to use torture. That is not a typo. There have been no new restrictions passed by Congress. Torture has always been against the law. Obama simply promised that questioning of subjects detained on suspicious of being ‘enemy combatants” would not undergo anything outside the guidelines set forth in the Army field manual ( Horton thinks those techniques are “torture lite”). It turns out even that deviation from Bush policy has not been implemented, Inside the Secret Interrogation Facility at Bagram

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) runs a classified interrogation facility for high-value detainees inside Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, defense and administration officials said, and prisoners there are sometimes subject to tougher interrogation methods than those used elsewhere.

Both the New York Times and the BBC reported that prisoners who passed through the facility reported abuse, like beatings and sexual humiliation, to the Red Cross, which is not allowed access. The commander in charge of detention operations in Afghanistan, Vice Admiral Robert Harward, has insisted that all detainees under his purview have regular Red Cross access and are not mistreated.

It has been previously reported that the facility, beige on the outside with a green gate, was operated by members of a Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)  group, allegedly outside of Harward’s jurisdiction. But JSOC, a component command made up of highly secret special mission units and task forces, does not operate the facility.

Instead, it is manned by intelligence operatives and interrogators who work for the DIA’s Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center (DCHC). They perform interrogations for a sub-unit of Task Force 714, an elite counter-terrorism brigade.

Called the “black jail” by some of those who have transited through it, it is a way-point for detainees who are thought to possess actionable information about the Taliban or Al Qaeda.

black and white spring

In Early Republic : People and Perspectives Perspectives in American Social History, Andrew Frank writes about the difficulty of finding recruits for the newly formed United States military in the year 1791,

Other recruiting ads and broadsides assured the interested and impoverished that, “the duties will be pleasant, the payment prompt, the cloathing elegant, and the provisions good” (Pennsylvania Gazette March 23, 1791).

As farmers increasingly struggled to make ends meet, some families enlisted their underage children. In these cases, the army became a substitute for an apprenticeship and a means to avoid poverty and starvation. These young boys often worked either as drummers or fifers or as powder monkeys, positions that often turned into becoming artillerists. Sponsors of children into the army, whether parents or guardians, often took half of the bounty for themselves and essentially sold the children as indentured servants to the United States military.

Parents could freely give their consent for young boys to enlist but found it was not so easy to get them discharged. On August 7, 1809, soldier and father Allan Rigsby enlisted his two sons, ages 12 and 10, for five years of service. Their soldiers’ rations meant survival for the boys, but survival came at a cost. Rigsby signed a statement promising that he would “not use any argument or means to dissuade or prevent my two sons Samuel or John Rigsby from re-enlisting when their period of service expires” (Rigsby 1809). Occasionally, parents had second thoughts and petitioned the government to have their children returned to them. For instance, William Mason enlisted in Philadelphia in 1811, but in 1813 his uncle wrote on his behalf to the secretary of war requesting Mason’s discharge. He claimed the boy was underage and already apprenticed at the time of his enlistment. Despite all the uncle’s efforts—no doubt encouraged by fears over the approaching war with Britain—William Mason did not get out of the army (James Gibson to General Armstrong, May 11, 1813, in Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General 1805–1821, 27). Young soldiers were not the only ones who wanted out of their service. In prosperous times, men of all ages deserted or looked for opportunities to leave. Similarly, many of the recruits who wanted food, clothing, or the bounty money tried to desert during the march to their first postings (Coffman 1986, 18; Heidler and Heidler 2004, 177).