Saturday, June 25, 2005

More on Gitmo & Terror

My dedicated reader makes some interesting points. Doesn't mean I agree, but interesting nonetheless. I'll deal with them out of order.

First, the Nazi/KGB/Khmer Rouge thing. Apparently we had a perspective difference. Terry's point of view is that from reading it, without the moronic commentary of Dick Durbin suggesting it, one might presume on their own that these were the acts of a heavy-handed government, and the offense described in the comment was that one could think ill of our military in that respect. A valid point for discussion.

A few points. First, we need some context. From a legal point of view, we have no idea who wrote that memo. It's hearsay. Durbin says "an FBI agent". But we don't know where he got the report, as evidenced by the exchange on the floor of the Senate between Durbin, John Warner (R-VA) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) a day or so after the original remarks. We can't cross examine them on their perspective or motives for writing such an account. Next, what else goes on at Gitmo? Taking it at fair face value, this is a report about what is one individual's snapshot in time. How are the other prisoners fairing? As I reported, they are gaining weight. Weight gain is a classic medical sign of good health. It can't be blown off as the reader did. The Nazis, gulag operators and Khmer Rouge starved people (if they didn't shoot them or worse first). I'll never forget the walking skeletons that were the Jews who miraculously survived the European butcheries. Good food usually is part of a regimen of humane treatment. Call it a generalization, but I'm pretty comfortable with it.

Next, what physical harm came to these people as a result of finding them in such a miserable condition? I have no question that what is described is uncomfortable, undignified and embarrassing, and I certainly do not question that it is taking place (I would expect it to be doing so). But there are hoses (no, not FIRE hoses), showers, etc. They go back to cells. They get fed. Durbin used this account to equate discomfort and embarrassment with torture. And I think that's where the category mistake is. But forgetting that, the inmates seem to have no problem voluntarily handling feces and flinging it at the guards. Can't have the doo-doo argument both ways.

Durbin meant to portray this event as the entirety of Gitmo, not an event witnessed. Shame on him.

Very importantly, the people at Gitmo are not the citizens of the country detaining them. These are foreign nationals captured on the battlefield fighting U.S. troops unattached to any nation's Army. As such, they possess the rights that their captors deem appropriate. As illegal combatants, no treaty protects them. But the reader makes the following salient point:

I reject the notion that because a person does not fit into certain legal categories they do not deserve to be treated humanely. Call it the Golden Rule, if you want.

I'd call it an American rule, and it shows good character. Humane treatment, however, does not always mean gentle treatment. They have information we need, and a lack of dignity and comfort can extract it. I do not suggest bringing these people to permanent harm. But hurt is something with which I am most comfortable if it provides intelligence into the operations of these terror organizations. We owe these people nothing, and we owe it to ourselves to protect ourselves, else our kindness may be the rope that hangs us if we fail to extract information that helps us interdict terrorist operations. And how much dignity does a person have if they want to blow apart civilians in malls or unleash a dirty bomb in a city? Yes, we do need to take the high road. But we can't be so arrogant in our "humanity" that we fail to do the dirtywork that keeps us safe. Nonetheless, when they don't want to leave for interrogation elsewhere, it says something about the conditions at Gitmo.

Most significantly, there is the matter of magnitude. There exist no incinerators at Gitmo to burn these terrorists alive. There are no re-education camps where you are shot for grieving lost loved ones. There are no firing squads, bullets to the backs of heads, tiger cages, long hours working one's self to the bone in dangerous conditions, gruel for food, etc. Nobody has died at Gitmo.

As far as their affiliation with terrorism, aside from the fact that they admitted being terrorist organization members, their information has helped to further extirpate al Qaida. There's no better proof that you are a terrorist than the fact that you can give information that helps track down terrorist operations in action. Of course, the matter of the remoteness in time is a possible factor. But think of it this way. Al Qaida is a work of genius. Its cells are designed to work independently, which means that when they lose contact with the leadership, as has happened since October 2001, they have pre-arranged methods of operation. But that means that no new instructions are being given, so the old operating procedures are probably largely still intact. That's where the genius of it all breaks down. Because extraction helps us to discern patterns of behavior which they know to use. It makes it easier to nab them. So there is still likely some value in the information we are obtaining, otherwise why bother to obtain it.

We know that the information gleaned from these people has already put their organization leaders in jail or six feet under, with the vast minority of them still on the run. Nobody is going to bother to squeeze any more out of them if the well runs dry.

I don't like the idea of gratuitously hurting people. But I also don't like the idea that people whom we have in custody who want to hurt civilians may have cronies on the lam with those same intents but also with the capabilities. I'll be happy when we nab them all. But part of being smart is behaving in a way that these people respect. And part of that is not fluffing their pillows.


Blogger Terry G. said...

How can we verify that these people are indeed dangerous to us? Unless I'm mistaken, they exist merely as fuzzy images. We don't even know their names! Without a transparent process, I can't feel confident that innocent people are not being hurt.

I take no solace that we aren't as bad as the Nazis, or the Khmer Rouge. Some yardstick!

Unpleasant, inhumane, or torture, call it what you will. These are discredited practices that generally do not result in actionable intelligence. What proof do we have that intelligence from Guantanomo has resulted in the meager success we've had to date against Al-Qaeda? Again, a transparent process would help.

Yes, our success is meager. Do we know of _any_ person prosecuted successfully in connection with the attacks of Sept. 11th? I think not.

I guess we'll count you as one of Churchill's sound sleepers, knowing rough men stand ready to do violence on your behalf. I'm not convinced that is the best solution to our problems.


3:44 PM  

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