Friday, November 12, 2004

Terrorists and political prisoners - believe it or not, you can tell them apart

I just finished reading a post on one of those loopy left wing sites (no, no not MSNBC, or, although I'm sure they both qualify) that called the Gitmo detainees "political prisoners." Its a fairly common thing to see in "progressive" arguments - select a term that describes something we all agree on, and then attempt to extend that agreement by applying the term to a different phenomenon. The term for that sort of logical fallacy is equivocation, and nobody does it like left wing activists. Mostly, it just amuses me, but this one hacks me off.

I suspect that almost anybody, if asked the question, would agree that keeping political prisoners is a bad thing - because, the definition of political prisoner that most people use would probably be something like " a person who is imprisoned because of his political beliefs, or for attempting to use lawful means (or what would be lawful in a free society - debate, discourse, peaceful agitation) to advance those beliefs" Well, yes, of course - chucking that class of person in jail is a bad thing, and is rightly condemned. By applying the term to the Gitmo detainees, leftists attempt to equate their detention with the sort of abuse that goes on in totalitarian countries. (With the sometimes unspoken subtext along the lines of "Bad, bad America - look at your political prisoners - Bad America - why, you're just as bad as the North Koreans - where do you get off pretending to have some sort of moral superiority?"

I'm calling bullshit on this one. The people stuck in Gitmo are not some sort of Mahatma Ghandi wannabees, peacefully petitioning for their right to religious freedom. These are people who a) bore arms under the Taliban when it was in power, killing off widows who dared to try to work outside of their homes to feed their kids, or cutting the ears off of young men who's beards weren't long enough to meet their loony tunes interpretation of Islam, and/or b) who continued to support the Taliban or any of another dozen or so terrorist groups after the US invasion by trying to kill US soldiers - either directly, or by providing logistical support or financing.

I know what it takes to get someone sent to Gitmo. While I'm not going to go into details, there is a difficult, excessively legalistic process that is required to even get someone screened to be declared a candidate to be further screened. Far more bad guys go free than are detained for any length of time. While I was there, I saw several known, acknowledged members of "anti-coalition militia" released from custody because they weren't considered high level or significant threats - one man was released after only a few months despite his admission that he had fired on US soldiers in an ambush on a joint US / Afghan patrol. The justification was that since he hadn't hit anyone, and since he promised not to do it again, there was no reason to continue to hold him.

And, people are released from Gitmo all the time - not as a result of judicial review, but because the military internally decides that they are not - or are no longer - a threat. I dealt with two men who returned to our small part of Afghanistan from Gitmo. One of them came to our A-camp with the sneering half smile and rhetorical flourishes that Pashtuns affect when they're lying through their teeth, showing us a letter from the US Army saying there was no further reason to hold him, and promising us he was our friend and supported the Afghan government ("you may cut my hands off if I am lying") - about a month later, we found out that he was back in the business of funneling money in from Saudi Arabia through Pakistan to support Taliban terrorists in the area. The problem is not that we aren't affording the terrorists enough judicial rights, the problem is that we're trying so hard to be fair we're releasing people who continue to be a serious threat to the lives of Afghan civilians and US soldiers. Those people who were sent to and who remain to Gitmo are the worst of those trying to kill my comrades.

Nor were they trying to do so as enemy soldiers, adhering to the laws of war. The detainees in Gitmo fought unlawfully: Wearing no uniform or fixed insignia, adhering to no commander responsible for their actions, hiding in the civilian populace, deliberately targeting civilians and civil government officials, and concealing their weapons when not attacking. The people in Gitmo are not soldiers, but terrorists.

According to international law developed over centuries, and codified in the 1949 Geneva Accords, there is a sharp distinction between the soldier, responsible for obeying the laws of war, and entitled to be treated as a prisoner of war when captured, and the terrorist, who is an unlawful combatant, and who is not entitled to the protection of the Geneva convention. That distinction seems to be turned on its head by most of the left, who apparently want us to treat unlawful combatants better than lawful ones: While a lawful combatant should be treated according to the Geneva convention, an unlawful one is apparently entitled to the more expansive rights of a criminal defendant in a US court.

Which leads to another equivocation coming from the left- this one apparently accepted by everyone from Amnesty International to the American Bar Association to the French - and that is the idea that somehow, "international law" is on the side of the terrorists. Bullshit again. US and international law is firmly on the side ofthe US on this one - with one exception: Protocol One, a 1977 addendum to the Geneva convention, is interpreted by the International Committee of the Red Cross, and by most left wing organizations wringing their hands about such things, as providing additional protection to unlawful combatants - even though, when it was proposed, the ICRC assured the world that Protocol One would not legitimize terrorists. Fortunately, the US is not a signatory to Protocol One. Ronald Reagan, rejected Protocol One precisely because he foresaw it being used to legitimize terrorism, to grant the same rights to terrorists as those granted to soldiers. (Agitators for the US to ratify the Rome Statute and become a party to the International Criminal Court should take the "camel's nose under the tent flap" politicization of Protocol One as a cautionary tale.)

I do fault the administration for one thing: they should have provided the military tribunal specified in the Geneva accords. That tribunal should have been charged with answering one question - "Is the person before us an unlawful combatant?" That's not a hard question to answer, since there are only two things that need to be determined - Was he a combatant? That is, did he directly or indirectly participate in armed resistance against the US or its allies (to include allied Afghan militias)? If so, was that participation unlawful - which it was unless the person fulfills all four of these requirements:

1) bore arms openly (not hidden down a well in their house)

2) conducted their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war

3) were commanded by a person responsible for their actions, and

4) wore a uniform or a fixed distinctive insignia recognizable at a distance (and a pakool hat and salwar kameez don't count - although there were many Afghanis who claimed that one could recognize the bad guys because they wore "Taliban shoes." Apparently when the Taliban were in power, they were very fond of imported German loafers with a little pot-metal buckle across the top, and you had to be hooked into the TB power apparatus to get your hands on shoes like that.)

That tribunal could have been done in fifteen minutes or so per detainee, because none of the bad guys we dealt with met any of those four criteria.

What I find to be most reprehensible about the leftist response to Gitmo is their blurring of what should be sharp, bright lines - between soldier and terrorist, between political prisoner and unlawful combatant, between lawful war and anarchistic terror. There are and should be consequences for being on the wrong side of those lines, not aid and comfort from the left.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Maybe you can judge a book by its cover . . .

I was wandering through my second office -Hartsfield International Airport - yesterday, and decided to grab some lunch between planes. (By the way, when did WH Smith sell out to Hudson News? I noticed that the B concourse deli/bookshop had been rebranded, and the food - which had always been pretty good for airport food - was mediocre. The focaccia bread was stale, the meat was tasteless, and the pesto salad - which used to be all vinegary and garlicky - was bland. Considering that the bookstore used to have the best quick between flights meal on B concourse, I'm really disappointed with the new owners.)

While I was in the bookstore browsing the titles (I bought Keegan's new book on intelligence in war - can't wait to read it) I saw the latest Michael Moore screed, The 911 Reader. On the cover is a picture of Michael Moore and George W. Bush sitting side by side in a movie theater, sharing a tub of popcorn. Now, obviously, that never really happened (I'm convinced that Moore has never shared his popcorn with anyone, for one thing), but it made me think. It seems to be a perfect example of the Michael Moore style. He needed something dramatic to illustrate a point he wanted to make, and it didn't exist, so he just made it up. Take a picture of Moore, a picture of Bush, do a little superimposition, and voila . . . his point is made. To me, that cover is indicative of Moore's whole style. Superimose one event on another, even with no causal connection, and let innuendo tell the story.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Well, it's over . . .

. . . and the right man won. So here's my take on the whole thing, for what its worth:

This is the second presidential election in a row I've watched from an out of state motel room - I've got to find a way not to travel so much.

This is the second time the power elite in the Democratic party have acted like contentious, litigious, whiny spoiled children. I'll forgive them getting bent out of shape over a 500 some odd vote margin in Florida in 2000 (although, it was 500 votes even after a concerted and successful effort by Florida's Democratic party in 2000 to throw out thousands of military absentee ballots that would have substantially increased GW's lead. The Dem's excuse was that the military postal system at the time didn't postmark military mail, so the letter of the law required those ballots be discarded. Let every vote be counted indeed . . . This is the same party getting all worked up about letting convicted felons vote in Florida. What does it say about a political party when it has more regard for the vote of thieves, rapists and murderers than it does for the vote of soldiers?)

This time, though, was different. 140,000 votes in Ohio is not a close election. As commentators pointed out fairly regularly, Gerald Ford conceded when he lost Ohio by 8000 votes. I'm glad that Kerry showed some class (12 hours too late, but at least he did), and ignored his advisors who had been all over TV the night before promising litigation over the vote in Ohio, apparently based on the hope that 95% or so of the provisional ballots there could be made to come in for Kerry. (And, as an aside, what does it say about voters when, in carrying out their most important responsibility as citizens, they can't figure out where to go to vote and remember to carry their driver's license with them? Why are we coddling these people?)

I feel like the Dems are missing the point in this election. Yes, its true that a lot of socially conservative evangelicals turned out for this one, and GW would have lost without them, but:

  1. The numbers show that the conservative evangelical turnout just about balanced out the Dems get out the vote drive. Millions of infrequent voters on both sides were brought to the polls, which still left the decision in the hands of the moderate middle.
  2. The Dem's talking heads keep talking about responding to the results by recasting the Democrat's "progressive" economic policies in moral terms (e.g., a higher minimum wage = a moral crusade to give the little man a decent living.) What a dumb idea - the people who are likely to be swayed by that argument - whether in moral terms or in strictly economic ones - already vote Democratic. The socially conservative voters who voted Republican on the issues of gay marriage, gun control, and abortion aren't going to be turned around by a political consultant who tries to manipulate their sense of right and wrong over the minimum wage.
  3. However, let's hope that the Dems do try moving a bit more towards the center on values. Maybe the nicest thing that could come out of the Democratic soul searching would be to see them distance themselves from the Hollywood liberal political crowd. One of the things that makes me happiest about the election is the realization that, as dumb as the power elites in this country think we all are, and as dumb as we actually are sometimes (see Jimmy Carter), we aren't so dumb as to elect anyone president because Barbra Streisand, Leonardo Dicaprio, and Eminem tell us to.
  4. At the end of the day, I suspect George W Bush is president because - when it actually came to crunch time - the moderate center of this country was honestly scared of what would happen if Kerry were president. This time "It wasn't the economy, stupid." If something goes wrong with the economy, we can fix it. The war with Wahhabism, Muslim extremism and most of the religious yahoos in the Middle East and Central Asia (however often that war is packaged as the more politically correct "war on terror" ) is a defining moment for our society, our culture and our nation, and we have to win it - even if it upsets the French. I don't think that Kerry ever really got that. This election was a gut check for our country, and I'm happy that if we had to make the choice, we chose the cowboy over the wimp.

That doesn't mean that I'm happy with all of Bush's policies. I'd like to see a politician at least try to wean us all a bit from the public teat, instead of throwing money around for more wet nurses. I'm sick of seeing the Republicans and Democrats arguing over who should be the beneficiary of public largesse (should seniors get a Medicare drug benefit? should corporations get subsidies? should homeless people get to live in the suburbs?) instead of arguing for a more minimal approach to government. I'm concerned about the civil liberties of US citizens under the Patriot Act (like the RICO acts before it, which were passed solely to deal with "organized crime", its only a matter of time before the Patriot Act is applied to anyone government officials suspect of any criminal activity or just suspect of thinking differently.) And I frankly don't like the Republican approach to the environment. I don't understand why businesses shouldn't pay the cost of not messing up my backyard and factor that expense into the cost of their goods and services just as they would any other production cost (not that I'd be in favor of blindly sycophantic acts like signing the Kyoto protocols either.)

However, with all that said, we're at war, the stakes in this war are likely to be nothing less than the continued ascendance of western civilization over the barbarian horde and we need to be in it to win - and only one of the two candidates for President got it. Thank God and the good sense of the American people that he won.