Detention in the context of multilateral operations

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“Detention in the context of multilateral operations”.


Presented by Vice Admiral (rtd) Matthieu J. M. Borsboom RNLN, President Apostolat Militaire International (AMI) at the 5th International Course for the Formation of Catholic Military Chaplains to International Humanitarian Law held in Rome from 29 to 31 October 2019.




Pre amble.

So my first words are to the interpreters. You don’t have my speech because it’s here in my hand. I produced it in underway, over the last 48 hours I traveled 36 hours coming from Nepal, climbing mountains. But I’m not here to talk about climbing mountains. I’m invited to talk about the subject of “detention in the context of multilateral operations”.

Eminences, Excellencies, Reverend Fathers, and fellow military, ladies and gentlemen it’s a great honor to speak to you. Good morning. It’s the start of the second day. I missed the first day traveling but I understood it was good. It’s fantastic to be together on two occasions: the fifth International Course for Catholic Military Chaplains to International Humanitarian Law and the second reason, maybe even more important, the 70th Anniversary of the Geneva and the Hague Conventions of 12 August 1949 (everybody’s always forgetting the Hague was part of it as well).

As introduced I’m Vice Admiral retired Matthieu Borsboom. I used to be the commander of the Royal Netherlands Navy for five years. And then, when I left the service after 38 years, somebody came knocking on my door. If I would have the interest to become the President of the Apostolat Militaire International. This is an elected position. The AMI is an NGO. It’s endorsed by the Vatican. It’s the only worldwide Catholic military lay organization. We have many nations participating in over five continents. Within AMI we focus twofold. First on individual military Catholics and Christians in the challenges they experience in their profession and faith. And secondly, we give professional military Catholic advice at the strategic level. For example here in the Vatican. Today I have with me two persons who are very important for AMI.

The first one is the Secretary-General of AMI; Colonel Domenico D’Ortenzi. He is an active serving. So he has all of this while doing a job. It’s great that he’s with me and he can also provide information or answer questions later on if needed, he will stay with us this morning and tomorrow afternoon.

And the other person with me is my ecclesiastical advisor Father Patrick Dolan. You would say Father Dolan so he’s a priest. Yes indeed, but he’s also a brigadier general US army retired. He has been active serving in many missions. He had to deal with detention in Iraq and Kuwait. He is also a parish priest. He just had to give up his parish in the United States. And besides that, he is a chemist, he’s a poet and he’s an author. Very interesting person. Speak to him. He’s my advisor and he’s appointed by the Vatican.

So what is my background? Well when you are in the military for 38 years, you have been around. As you can see I’m a sailor. I was at sea for many years. But then all of a sudden I was also found onshore, I was the deputy commander ISAF in Afghanistan end 2008 and 2009. I was over 13 months on this mission with the responsibility for governance and development Afghanistan wide, which was pretty complex but rather relevant for the topic today because I also had to deal with the rule of law. I was in prisons in Afghanistan, not subjected but visiting, which is the good part. And these were all intense challenges. During my seagoing career I was involved in counterterrorism, counter drugs operations mainly in middle America and South America working with for example Colombian and Venezuelan and other forces including American forces (CIA, DEA, JIATF, US Coastguard). I was heavily involved in Counter-Piracy operations which were increasingly needed after 2009, as you know in the Gulf of Aden but also the west coast of Africa. And then I was involved in UN lead mission in Haiti during the Haiti civil war, as you may remember the time of Papa Doc and Baby Doc. On top, I served during the cold war.

And so I’ve been around so to speak and I will bring some of these experiences into my speech. And nowadays besides being president of AMI which is becoming more and more sort of a full-time occupation I’m also a Senior Advisor on Defence and Security for a couple of big companies like KPMG (public and corporate sector advisory) but also for BCW a worldwide strategic communication campaign. And I’ve been advising the secretary-general of NATO personally for a year on defense topics as well.

So anyway that’s the introduction and the topic is clear:

“Detention in the context of multilateral operations”.

The approach of the subject.
So I will approach the subject from a practical point of view, but we first have to have a framework. So I will sketch a framework. And the keyword is complexity because it’s really complex; international missions. And I will come with some advice. It’s just an advice, you can leave it or you can take it. But it will be practical. So it’s at least good for a debate.

The framework is important; when we plan military missions where does it start? We have of course the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights. Human Rights are also defined as “the legal expression of human dignity”. And in that perspective, we come closer to the Catholic Social Teaching (CST), but also statements made by Pope Francis. In these references, it is seen that the military are there fundamentally to be: “responsible to protect”. 

The military are there to protect. To whom are we the military, protecting: our own people. Within the confinements of our own borders. But it goes further. The military are asked also to protect the international order. And on peacekeeping missions, it’s not just protecting international order. It’s also delivering conditions where peace can be retained, restored and or maintained. And then more and more the military is asked to support Civil Authorities, think of disaster relief or large fires or floodings. But also in assisting fighting crime, because organized international crime is becoming more and more of a problem at the state level and even interstate level. So we will see various types of protection. Therefore there will be many different types of missions for the military, often more and more in combination with foreign affairs but also civil authorities and NGO’s. That brings me to what I said earlier: the complexity.

So before I go into the detention topic we first have to sketch the complexities in how a military mission is arranged.

A. Multilateral arrangements. That mission can be unilateral but often it’s multilateral. Often it’s no longer a military mission where it’s about state versus state. It is state versus non-state. Which brings in a complete new complexity. It could be missions of two or three countries under the EU or the African Union or NATO Article 5 or no Article 5. It can also be endorsed by a U.N. sanction or just a coalition of the willing.

B. Culture. The ISAF mission in Afghanistan: not many know how many countries participated there. It was 48 different countries, involved in my division I had 28 countries and I had to deal with that because these are different cultures and even within a country you know that the Army and the Air Force and the Navy etc have different sub-cultures. Adding to the complexity of the multilateralism in itself.

C. Definition of Human Rights. Another complexity besides these different cultures is, if you talk about human rights, the definition of human rights in the context of U.N. declarations, you could say this is clear but it is not. Because many nations have their own cultural angle in looking at human rights. If you would ask a Chinese about human rights and their vision, while they have ratified U.N. Declarations, they will give a different answer from somebody from Belgium. It’s about individualism and collectivism and how this comes together. So the definition of human rights is a complexity in itself.

D. Legal. There is also a legal complexity and we will see later if the legal framework is fitted for state versus state and we will see that in the Geneva Convention it’s not applicable to state versus non-state. So we have to find ways how to resolve this.

E. Politics. And then we get into the politics where we have many nations in a military mission especially on the topic of detention. This is highly political. It’s sensitive. I can tell you that today 10 years after the Dutch stopped u waterboard him or are we sticking to the Geneva Conventions. These are the moral questions for every military leader but also for every individual soldier. That’s important to understand. The good thing also about the Geneva Convention is that it holds two articles 33 or 37 on religious freedom and the fact that prisoners have to be able to express their religion and be assisted in this aspect and even being giving facilities. But this is all wartime situation. And I just explained that more and more like counter drugs or counter-piracy it’s not against the state. Or what we did in Afghanistan was not against the state it was on request of the Afghanistan government to assist. What we have been doing in Mali is on request of the Mali government fighting terrorism and we can find many examples of missions that are not fitting in the legal framework of “declared war”. But the good thing is and this is advice because I don’t hear too much about it, know we have another reference. We have another standard, this is the Standard for Minimum Requirements for Prisoners. Produced by the UNODC. This is signed in 2015, it’s not new because it started in 1957. These SMR’s are on imprisonment in all circumstances. So it’s not only in the circumstances of state inter state conflict. It’s in all other circumstances as well. It’s not legally binding, but the good thing is it’s applicable to all cases. Did you hear about this? Can you raise your hand (only one person). Well this is pretty amazing because this is really important. Because it’s already in a very few instances that the convention of Geneva is applicable, although these rules are very similar to these SMR on imprisonment. Both references are sanctioned by the UN. Both have two articles on (art 65 or 66 in the case of SMR) religious freedom and facilities to be given to prisoners. In the case of SMR, they are not prisoners of war because it’s not an interstate conflict but they are prisoners. They could be pirates, they could be drug gangs. It could be a movement of not uniformed but armed forces. It could be all these other groups. And I think we should learn about it. So if we have detention arranged according to these two international norms: either the Geneva Convention or the SMR for imprisonment in our mission documents we have a reference that adheres to UN Standards and Human rights.

The role for Military Chaplains.
So where is the role for the military chaplains? You will read from my advice that this role has to be expanded, not making the role smaller but wider. So what can military chaplains do.

A. Teaching. In my opinion, from my experience they can be involved in teaching, teaching ethical dilemmas. During basic training, on Staffcollege, even in the mission.

B. They can be involved in advising, advising military leadership. For example, when I was involved in Haiti we did boarding operations on the ships at the same time we had to deal with a refugee situation. From small boats at sea where parents were threatening to throw their babies into the ocean to force us to rescue all of them. This was happening in front of my eyes. It’s about Cuba humanitarian crisis where many Cubans left Cuba. So they were not hostiles. they were just actually refugees. We picked them up from improvised rafts, brought them on our ship. We transported them to U.S. Coast Guard ships. U.S. Coast Guard transported them to Guantanamo Bay (before it became a prison). And then they were escorted back into Cuba. In these situations, you know you pick these people up and they are not enemies, more sort of refugees but how to deal with them because you can’t have them running around freely through your ship so you will confine them but there are no prisoners. So in these circumstances chaplains can advise how in a dignified humanitarian way you can deal with that. And I think that is very important.

C. Counseling. I see a third role for military chaplains which is counseling which is very close to the nature of the military chaplains.

D. Conscience. The conscience, the moral compass. And I think that’s very important, to be the mirror, to be a sort of the cornerstone of what is morally justifiable yes or not. And so I see four tasks for military chaplains. 

So now to who have Military Chaplains to deliver these task? Of course, it will be our own military because the military chaplains are going on missions with us and they will foster the military and the military which will be connected to detention. They will also be advising our own staff and leadership. And I think that’s very important. We can see the example of Abu Ghraib. We all know the Abu Ghraib incident where of course it was individual soldiers who were conducting these wrongdoings, but it was also a staff which you know apparently was not looking deep enough into this and then it became viral via social media. But the military chaplains should not restrict themselves only to take care of either advising, teaching, etc. to our own military. But also to the opponent because and I don’t have to tell you, you can tell that to me. We are here in the Vatican. And if we talk about the universal love of God, it means also “love for the enemy”. And I learned from Bishop Bogden that in Croatia they even have a prayer for the enemy. And I still recall from that AMI conference in Croatia that this prayer was very impressive. So the military chaplains should also see where they could assist the opponents either the individual military who are detainees. But also staff and leadership. I give you one example from my own experience in Afghanistan. I reached out to the mullah council, this was the first time a high ranking ISAF official reached out to the religious highest level of the country. Why was this, because 80 percent of the Afghans killed were killed by Taliban with improvised explosive devices (IED) and vehicle-borne IED’s.. So this visite was my initiative, but advised upon by military chaplains and sanctioned by the military commander, at the time General McChrystal. Now, what was it I wanted to discuss with the mullah council. The notion if the Koran or teaching of Islam was sanctioning suicide bombings, knowing by the way that most casualties were Afghans. And if not so, if the council could speak against it. So this is what I mean that we have to stretch where military chaplains can advise because if a military leader wants to do these things he needs advice. Also in the religious ethical aspects and that’s maybe something new for you but this is something I needed at the time when I had that responsibility.

So the tasks for Military Chaplains are known and also for them who to support, I also gave you a few examples. Now, what does this mean for the military chaplains? From my point of view, they should not be legal experts. That’s for others. But they have to know their stuff. You have to understand that there is a Geneva Convention. You have to understand there is are Standard Minimum Rules for detainees in other situations. There has to be training in all these standards. And maybe you even have to qualify. For example when we did counter-piracy we had a prison on board to take the pirates in. But you know the ordinary sailor is not a  prison keeper. So we send sailors to a short course in prisons where they learn how to become a prison keeper. But likewise, a military chaplain is not the same as a chaplain in a detention center. But we have chaplains in detention centers. So military chaplains can learn from this. There is a compendium for detention center chaplains. So it would be interesting to see where we could align advice and courses about detention as well on the private and the military side. And of course, military chaplains can learn from previous experiences from other chaplains or other people. So do not limit yourself would be my message. The need for religiously inspired advice to military leadership is increasing not decreasing. And the last potential task for the military chaplains. You are there also to “prevent moral disengagement”. These are academic words but we know when you are in a military outfit, you will understand what’s happening there. You talk to the people and you will know if there is a disengagement of what is normal and what is right and what is just. Because war and military operations have the tendency not to bring the best out of people because you are in in a strange environment and it’s good that military chaplains would be the sort of cornerstone to preventing this moral disengagement.

Then we have in the audience also military bishops who most often have been military chaplains before: so they know the missions. But I would like to say to the military bishops I think it’s your responsibility that your military chaplains get trained well and that they get prepared well and that there is a built-in lessons identified and lessons learned cycle because it’s not so that if you are a good chaplain at home that you automatically can do all these tasks. I just mentioned the complex mission abroad. Training is needed, preparation is needed, time is needed. And then what is also important, derived from my experience in the military. We have been setting up all kinds of buddy systems in the mission. Coming back from a mission there’s a decompression period. You go to a place outside the mission, there will be talks with psychiatrist and doctors and also the family will be interviewed (at least this is what we do in the Netherlands). There will be surveys. So we take care of the military coming back. So who is taking care of the military chaplains when they come back. I know for sure even in this audience there will be military chaplains coming back from multiple missions and there was nobody there for them. Zero. So the buddy system should also be for the military chaplains. And that’s why I’m addressing this to the military bishops: build a buddy system. So this is a lot what I ask from military chaplains and actually also military bishops. But this is you know what I was asked to do, give you practical advice. So for the military chaplains in a mission, it’s not only about church services or confession it’s to stimulate an ethical culture. You could also help as I said with rules of engagement not only to construct them but also to implement them.

Strategic Soldier. I promised to come back to the strategic soldier. Two examples. You remember the impact of the strategic soldier can be positive or can be negative.
Osama bin Laden was finally discovered and killed. We could monitor the strategic soldiers almost in real-time conducting the operation is was positive because this was something looked out for many years.
The negative example, I already mentioned that was Abu Ghraib, a couple of individual low-rank military mistreated prisoners, they were of course out of bounds in any aspect. They hide it from the commanders but they put footage on the Internet, pretty stupid. But that’s what it is. But the effect of these individual deeds by these individual soldiers, the strategic outcome was a rage in the Muslim world. A lot of military and actions in Muslim countries were in jeopardy because of this. So we see the enormous effect.

But social media has not only negative effects it has also very positive effects and within AMI at this time, and this is to conclude, we are preparing to use the strength of social media to connect to the individual military from all these nations. At this time we are producing an application and App, it will be free to install. It’s based on the existing App “Tweeting with God”. It will be brought to the individual military. It will deliver religious answers to questions. There will be spiritual resources added with prayers and also devotions because not always there is a military chaplain. So the individual military will have the ability to gain knowledge, reading, learning, asking questions and then of course in this app we also can add specific topics: like battle fatigue, like how to deal with detention, like the question how can you’ll be holding the sword as a military and at the same time holding the Bible as a Catholic because this has to be combined in one person and that is what we do with the App.

Besides the App of course we have Web sites, we have newsletters, declarations, we have annual conferences. So I invite all those nations who are still thinking about becoming member of the AMI to do that and to talk to me or to the secretary general or to the ecclestical adviser over the coming days.

To conclude: the Apostolat Militaire International (AMI) is at your service and we are here to support all the military, we are here to support them in their faith and in the profession and we are also here to serve and advise, either in the Vatican or individual nations or other international organizations.

Thank you for your attention! I’m ready for your questions.