Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Point-Counterpoint: The Gitmo Shuffle

I can smell it in the air; the sweat of Democrats, liberals and members of human-rights groups, rushing around in a fervent, melodramatic swirl, out for the blood of the "bad" men and women who supervise (and are alleged to have abused) the prisoners ("enemy combatants") at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba ("Gitmo").

I would think that most of us have, at one time or another, seen in a movie or television show an instance of prisoner abuse. Whether it's a cop slapping or verbally harassing someone during an interrogation, or a maniacal warden overzealously haranguing an "innocent" inmate, or one inmate abusing another on behalf of the get the picture. In the context of Gitmo, however, this is far from a simple, black-and-white situation that can be fixed with some words of wisdom and title credits.

The problem is that there is a collection of 500 muslim prisoners who opted to fight, however voluntarily, US forces in or around Afghanistan during the limited combat which took place there after September 11th. These are men who should be and are regarded as POW's. While they are technically not POW's -- their leader is not the leader of a nation but Osama bin-Laden, the head of a rogue terrorist group -- the Geneva Convention has fairly specific rules which govern the treatment of prisoners.

I think it's time we rethink the scope and the meaning of the Geneva Convention as it pertains to us and other nations in the crosshairs of non-state "combatants." I am under the impression, whether correctly or otherwise, that taking prisoners of war and treating them properly meant not abusing them or humiliating them. I didn't realize our ascribing to these rules also meant we could not interrogate said prisoners in an attempt to save American lives. The article details how the American officials used sound, heat and cold to enhance their ability to interrogate prisoners. It also mentions inappropriate touching by females, intimidation, threats, duct-taping of prisoners who refused to stop reciting verses of the Koran, and a variety of other tactics which, apparently, are no-no's according to the Geneva Convention. The problem is, for the most part, these tactics were not mere attempts to humiliate prisoners of war. They were used to gain information from people with better access thereto than suicide bombers.

Having said all that, CNN published an article today addressing the topic of Gitmo abuse as alleged by an FBI agent. The article can be found here, and I think the crux thereof can be gleaned from the following quote from the aforementioned article:

Sen. Carl Levin [D] said their investigation, which looked into FBI allegations of abuse of prisoners, shows that the purpose of the abuses recorded by investigators was to gather intelligence -- and indicated that the problem was not an isolated one.

Hopefully I won't be overly dramatizing the issue by mentioning two other notable instances of prolonged, instititutionally-implemented abuse of prisoners: Stalin in Russia, and Hitler's Nazi Germany. These are not the types of company we as a nation should aspire to keep.

But if we abuse, ridicule or otherwise degrade those POW's, then we -- as a nation -- are no better than the pieces of shit who have beheaded, abused and tortured captives in allegiance to the Taliban and Osama bin-Laden and in the name of Allah. So let's not confuse the confluence of retribution, justice, morality and an overall sense of what is right and what is wrong. Blindfolding or putting a hood over a prisoner's eyes/head and climbing on top of him to "ride" him is degrading and serves no real purpose other than to humiliate him. And what is the purpose of that humiliation? The recipient of that treatment, if he lives, will tell his Muslim brethren about his treatment by the Americans and confirm what many Islamic scholars drive into the heads of fervent "extremists" from birth: America is the world's satan and every good muslim should take up the sword, gun or explosive belt and damage it any- and every way possible. So (sic) a big thumbs-up goes out to the imbeciles (the US soldiers) who were willingly photographed abusing prisoners at Gitmo.

But we should be able to, and we need to, as a nation, defend our citizens domestically and abroad however and by whatever means necessary. So if that means we threaten, intimidate, deceive, use extreme temperature, even sodium pentathol, than we must go forward. If we can prevent another 9/11 or merely learn more about our enemy, than a mild -- as I see it -- violation of the Geneva Convention is not "abuse" of prisoners but a necessary evil.

One final note on this topic, for the time being: it bothers me that the only people seemingly complaining about prisoner abuse are (for the most part) Democrats and Muslims who have been imprisoned at Gitmo. Suicide bombers don't leave anything in their wake; so if we as a nation do not interrogate and discover what those people fighting the US in the name of religion know about our enemy, than we can genuinely expect, in my opinion, this problem to worsen, not improve. I've heard many suggest that this type of "abuse" -- interrogating prisoners, mishandling religious items which they respect (ie the Koran, which the US provides each prisoner), allowing female soldiers/guards to touch them (against their religion), etc. -- will further incite action from extremists who simply require the US to provoke further anger from Muslims worldwide. However, it seems to me that if our enemy has so much hate and religious zeal that they can -- without remorse, and instead with celebration -- behead civilians they kidnap, then we should worry less about inciting them and more about cowing or respecting them. This problem is a larger version of its microcosmic cousin, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Several years ago, a Palestinian funeral was held, depicting the religious walking of the victim's coffin through the streets prior to burial. As the coffin was being carried through a field, an Israeli airship began firing at a nearby insurgent stronghold, which caused the four men carrying the coffin to suddenly drop the coffin and run, literally, for their lives. Curiously, the victim, who had been in the now-dropped coffin, miraculously sprang to life and began to run with his fellow insurgents. The Palestinian PR machine backfired on itself; if the event had not been staged, no one would have seen this live, and no one would have seen this a thousand times thereafter on videotape.

But they did.

The fact is, the complaints of prisoner abuse -- ridiculing inmates contained at Gitmo, mocking their religious and personal beliefs, depicting said inmates in humiliating poses and capturing same on film -- is inappropriate. However, interrogating the enemy -- an enemy who has no country, no sponsor other than a known terrorist, and one who is willing to kill and to die in the name of religion -- is a right that I fully and wholeheartedly support. I believe the current wave of allegations regarding the so-called abuse at Gitmo are a (successful) PR campaign waged against the world: the world's muslims, nations "on the fence" (like France, Germany and Russia), and the democrats of the government herein who are looking for anything they can use to chip away at the effort which the Bush Administration has expended in its war on terror.

I know war is abhorrent, and I agree that prisoners -- whether they are suicide bombers, nazis or people who would rather kill themselves than accept your existence in the world -- should be afforded fair treatment and a modicum of respect. But I also realize that as the Gitmo detainees are released to their respective nations -- Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, etc. -- many of them will find their way back to a battlefield someday soon.

And should the pacifists crying foul and alleging abuse and campaigning for proper treatment of prisoners be allowed to hamper the nation's efforts to learn about and -- hopefully -- to defeat our enemy, that battlefield might very well be a major metropolitan US city. A subway. A suicide car bomb crashing into a major American mall. A bus. Times Square. Or The White House.

Personally, I've always believed erring on the side of caution is a fair, proper policy; and I'd much rather read about complaints from my enemy and his sympathizers than news from 9/11 and from last week in London.

Wouldn't you?

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