FORT KNOX, K.Y. — During any war, military police Soldiers serve on two front lines.
They fight against the enemy – providing area security and maneuver and mobility support – but they also hold the line of war’s greatest paradox: the humane treatment of captured enemies.
“Every country in the world has signed the Geneva Conventions, and that is a demonstration of the fact that countries recognize that war is a violent activity, but there needs to be laws ... to deal with the humane aspect. Even wars have limits,” said Paul Baker, an armed forces delegate for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
That’s why the 200th Military Police Command – the U.S. Army’s premier specialists in detention operations – just completed one of its most significant training events of the year with the help of the ICRC, at Fort Knox, Kentucky, Dec. 1, 2018.
“It was a good learning opportunity … to understand the great humanitarian work that the International Committee of the Red Cross brings to the battlefield. It’s a service that will not only help us, but help our enemies (in the fair treatment of prisoners),” said Lt. Col. Roy Taylor, commander of the 138th Military Police Detachment (Theater Detainee Reporting Center).
Two ICRC experts – Baker and Koen De Groof – spent a full day training approximately 100 Soldiers from U.S. Army Reserve MP units who specialize in matters related to detention operations. Among other roles, the ICRC aims to secure humane treatment and conditions for all detainees around the world.
“Understanding each other. Understanding the laws that apply. Understanding how each other operates. It is always better to do it in a training environment rather than learning on the job, as it were, once the operation has started,” said Baker.
The ICRC doesn’t play favorites. Their work is based on the Geneva Conventions of 1949. The ICRC is an independent, neutral organization. Their aim is to uphold humanitarian protection and assist victims of armed conflict where they can, among other responsibilities.
“They’re not for any one side. They do the same (work) whether it’s one of our enemy prisoner of war camps, or it’s one of our adversaries’. They don’t take sides in the battle. They just go in and make sure everybody is treated humanely. That’s a benefit to every Soldier,” said Master Sgt. Paul Stevenson, noncommissioned officer (NCO) in charge of the 346th Military Police Detachment (Detention Camp Liaison).
During this year’s training, ICRC experts informed Soldiers about their history and mission, the importance of the Geneva Conventions during war, as well as discussed how those laws are applied in military detention centers around the world.
“Soldiers at all levels were able to ask questions to the presenters. We had everyone from private to (commanding) general asking questions. Lower enlisted, NCOs and officers were all engaged … which brings a lot of depth to the discussion,” Taylor said.
The Soldiers who attended the training represented six MP detachments, as well as senior leadership from the command’s headquarters. Each of those detachments is small in size, yet have a big impact on maintaining the trust of the international community.
Those detachments fall under two categories: a Theater Detention Reporting Center (TDRC) and five Detention Camp Liaison (DCL) units. These units don’t guard prisoners directly. Rather, they ensure proper record-keeping and detention standards are maintained on the battlefield.
The TDRC is a modular organization capable of deploying to large-scale combat operation as a single team. It can also split up into four teams to meet smaller mission needs. Their role is mainly administrative: accurately managing data and property pertaining to detainees operations during an armed conflict. They report data back to the Pentagon, which makes portions of it available to the ICRC and the DoD community as needed.
The U.S. has a responsibility of maintaining accountability of enemies they capture even after they’ve been handed over to a host nation. The five DCLs administer the US responsibility for continuous accountability of detainees captured by US Forces and transferred to an allied/host nation internment/detention facility.
“We don’t validate (prisons). We don’t inspect. We assess,” said Master Sgt. Glenn Glasgow, a senior advisor for the 418th MP Detachment (DCL).
They assess everything from a facility’s security protocols to looking at the medical care provided to inmates, food quality and hygiene standards. They also assist allied/host nation internment and or detention personnel by training and teaching.
The ICRC, similarly, conducts its own assessments of prisoners. Wherever a military conflict is, they go – regardless of which nations are involved.
“It was great just knowing what they do, and just knowing that we will run into them again on the battlefield. Chances are they’re already going to be there before we are,” said Stevenson.
Going forward, this training will expand across the 200th MP Command to include companies, battalions and any other units responsible for the direct handling of prisoners and detention operations, as well as senior officers, NCOs and leaders from across the command.