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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

No doubt, there are people who have been rounded up on the battle field who deserve punishment. But what about claims that many in Gitmo were put there under false premises (read New Statesman October 9, 2006, HEADLINE: Human rights: How Guantanamo's prisoners were sold by: Clive Stafford Smith)because the US / CIA paid the Pakistan gov't millions for anybody they gave us. We've rounded up random people -- like Uighurs from China and sent them to Gitmo where they languished without rights for years. I don't understand the argument about why military commissions are important for the WoT in any way.

Why do you trust that military commissions will delve out justice, but at the same time you are super skeptical about the "camel's nose" in the ICJ? If people can interpret the ICJ to suit their needs/ideology, what makes you think that military freakin' commissions that lack judicial review will not use similar tactics to interpret the laws to their own whims?

Right/Left/Libertarian/ETC -- it doesn't matter. This is another episode of American history where the executive is clearly out of control -- we've seen it a few times before. We need to resist this turn towards scapegoating and fascism -- the government can never be trusted. We cannot tolerate this turn towards increased governmental power.

6:32 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

I trust them because that is their job. That is why they are there. That is why we put them there. They have checks on them just like local law enforcement do. All of the incidents where members of the military broke the law were brought to our attention by the military themselves. This includes Abu Gahrib and Haditha (which by the way ended up being false). The military is comprised of regular folks like you and me who love this country just as much as we do. Their families live among us. Do you think they want their country to become some fascist state? You think thats what they want to return to when they leave the service?

I don't want the Government and military in MY LIFE as a US citizen. I do want them in the lives of people sworn to kill us all the first chance they get.

4:00 AM  

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