Nonlethal techniques, ethics key to successful border operations

20 Oct 2008 | Cpl. GP Ingersoll

BORDER FORT NINE, Iraq – Marines here spent Oct. 20 teaching desert wolves not to bite.

The “Desert Wolves,” 2nd Iraqi Border Police Battalion, 5 Brigade, 2nd Division attended nonlethal measures and detainee ethics and handling courses Oct. 20.

“(Border police) can’t just come up on a sheep herder that’s too close to the border and roll the dude,” said Cpl. Sherman C. Smith, adviser, Border Transition Team 4222. “It undermines our efforts to gain support for the (Iraqi Security Forces) with the Iraqi populace.”

Lectures covered correct physical and ethical treatment of suspected law breakers. At the end of the lectures, instructors posed hypothetical situations to students, opened the floor for suggested courses of action, and critiqued each course of action.

Advisers also demonstrated proper detainee handling techniques, and then tested each student’s comprehension of those techniques. Marine Corps Martial Arts capped the classes with some basic self-defense techniques.

“The purpose is to detain the individuals, not to kill them or harm them,” said Smith, 23, Cooper Landing, Alaska. “We try to use the least amount of force possible or necessary to accomplish the mission.”

Smith said the “mission” is multi-pronged. Of course the overarching purpose of the border team is to maintain observation on Iraq’s borders. But unlike the military, the border team cannot simply close with and destroy any perceived threat to security.

“If you going around shooting everyone all the time, the populace is not going to cooperate with you,” Smith said.

If there’s one lesson service members learned from the “Anbar Awakening,” it’s that the native population affects security as much as men and women in uniform. Not only will a peaceful populace make for good interior security, but good intelligence gathering.

“The local populace are the eyes and ears of the community, you have to show restraint to get them on your side, and then you’re going to get information,” said 1st Lt. Andrew R. Scheuer, adviser.

Along with gathering information from the locals, police can extract intelligence from a suspect.

But dead men don’t speak.

“Live suspects, smugglers, they can lead you to the bigger fish,” said Cpl. Jose N. Parra, adviser. “Like maybe a training camp, or it might lead them on to find a big-cache smuggle with lots of weapons, which will prevent those weapons from making it into Iraq.”

Demonstrating restraint has more benefits than providing stability and information. Building a fair judicial branch requires police to follow proper arrest procedures.

“If they roll up a person and he’s not resisting, and they start beating him … in court the lawyers will ask why he’s all beat up … and the case could get thrown out,” said Parra, 25, Loredo, Calif. Marines here said lawyers could get guilty men off charges because of police brutality, no different than in the states.

“We’re trying to get them to be seen as legitimate border patrol agents,” Parra said. “Legitimacy makes them more approachable, and it helps them to fill a necessary place in public service.”

Though there are many reasons why restraint and arrest is preferable to brutality and bullets, Marines don’t discourage use of lethal force if necessary.

“If they know they can handle a situation with less force, they will. But if they can’t handle it, they go to the rifle,” Parra said. The main point is that they shouldn’t be “using lethal force in the beginning, just as a last resort.”

Nonlethal force, detainee ethics and public service are just a few of the small “prongs” these BTT Marines teach to border police teams in an effort to create a stable and stand-alone border police force.

The border classes are just small portions of a bigger objective said the Marine advisers here. For the Iraqis to stand on their own, eventually the classes themselves must be turned over along with their territory.

Turnover starts, not with squads of enlisted students, but with senior level leadership.

“Professionalizing their leadership is the most important thing; engaging with their officers over there on a daily basis,” said Scheuer, 26, Westlake, Ohio.

For Scheuer, it’s the officers who will accept the course material as border patrol doctrine, and the noncommissioned officers who will execute and enforce the doctrine.

“Hopefully we get to a point where we’re not teaching these classes, the leadership is, the NCOs are, and that could happen very shortly … policemen can go to each border and teach these classes,” Scheuer said. “Then we’ll be out of a job … but that’s the ultimate goal, to be out of a job.”

Normally being out of a job isn’t such a good thing. But in this case, Scheuer said, unemployment may not be such a bad idea