There is a hot debate going on, and it has been going strong for some years, about how we should treat detainees at places like Guantanamo and in the custody of allied nations. The odd thing to me, is that I see discrimination in the points of view of both Left and Right, but the preference shown is in opposite directions. The way I see it, the Left wants to protect perceived “rights” of persons apprehended by our troops, even if that protection endangers innocents, our troops, and the mission. The Right wants the mission to succeed in Iraq, even if by that effort individuals suffer injustice to some degree, and certain innocents may suffer pain, loss, and even death. This is the hard truth to the matter. I am not saying that the Left desire the mission to fail or innocents to die, nor do I say that the Right does not care about what happens to a particular person, but the choice is made and consequences result from the decision. We should be honest about that, even though if we have a functioning conscience that fact should make us all uncomfortable.
Moral choices with consequences happen all the time. If someone takes hostages and negotiations do not appear to be working, yes there will be a sniper positioned to kill the person who has taken the hostages, and if the hostage-taker dies in that situation few of us would have a good reason to complain about the action. If someone is part of an organization which murders innocents and continues to pursue such actions, then to my mind that person’s life is forfeit. No, I am not saying that a terrorist who surrenders or swears off his old ways has to be killed, but whether or not someone is personally committing an act of violence at the time he encounters our troops has no bearing on his fate; Admiral Yamamoto was not flying a bomber when we shot him out of the sky in World War 2, but it was still the right and necessary thing to do. And terrorists hardly match the moral standards which Admiral Yamamoto was known for.
Basically, I see it this way. 9/11 started the war, and all the claims otherwise don’t budge that fact. And no, it’s not just Al Qaeda; that group is basically a front for a number of different organizations, in sort of the same way that the old ‘Islamic Jihad’ of the 1980s was a hodgepodge of different groups that took the name for their own purposes. The Madrid train bombing is an example of the was/was-not aspect of Al Qaeda’s activity. Terrorists are not ‘freedom fighters’ or simply practicing guerrilla warfare, either. They kill indiscriminately and their chief purpose is to destabilize governments and provoke enemy forces to waste resources in many places. So, the United States and its allies (and yes, we have allies) moved into Afghanistan and Iraq because it was necessary, because if they did not the whole region was headed for a bad blow-up. You can believe it or not, the evidence has been plain for years and until 2003 even the Democrats said so themselves in public. Those who opposed the invasion of Iraq fell into three basic camps: The Saddamites who would personally lose from his fall, which includes those countries who enjoyed special deals with Saddam, especially Germany and France and Russia; those nations whose appetite for conquest was thwarted by a force they could not hope to overwhelm (Iran and Syria, for example); and Socialists, whose greatest fear for the Middle East was that a stable Middle East would advance American influence and power. It’s hardly a shock that most of the public protests were organized and paid for by Communist-front groups like ANSWER.
The Left had its day, and may again, but now that the Surge is clearly working, that ordinary Iraqis are making clear that they will not accept the likes of Al Qaeda or Iran’s infiltrated thugs, and that the U.S. Military is making Iraq far better than it was under Saddam for the regular people, more and more people are realizing that the troops were neither duped nor stupid, but were right all along in their commitment and spirit. But the war continues, and the key question still haunts us: What do we do with these monsters we catch?
First, let’s be clear that we are not talking about your average criminal on ‘Cops’. These are the kind of people who build bombs to kill women and children in schools, they kill people at Mosques in prayer, they are too cowardly to face anyone in straight-up combat, they depend on hidden bombs and ‘soft’ targets. They increasingly have no connection to the area where they operate, but have been imported and outfitted by alien forces. They are, therefore, not a native ‘resistance’ but hired thugs and fanatics, whose whole worldview centers on death; theirs or someone else, in many cases they don’t even care. Their actions merit execution, not protection. They are extremely dangerous, to themselves as much as anyone else. I would not blame the military, frankly, if they just locked them away somewhere and provided sufficient protection from escape, and if they killed each other off, no great loss. But the U.S. military is made of better ideals than that.
The utopian solution would be where a just system could weigh the evidence and choose a fate appropriate to the deeds and the need of the society for accountability and deterrent force. In the case of terrorists, however, problems begin at the outset. There is no suitable local venue for trials, nor are terrorists the sort of people to face the consequences of their deeds realistically; these are monsters which revel in blood and pain, and have become convinced, against all reason, human sensibilities and logic, that they will receive an eternal reward, not punishment, for their crimes. The more heinous, the more glory they think. Man learned long ago that when an animal reaches such a condition, it must be destroyed, as much for the good of other animals as for the humans. The same hard rule applies here; if it is known that a man has committed the sort of acts we see so common to Al Qaeda, not merely murder or violence in the heat of the moment, but the thirst for the blood of innocents, a creed of cruelty performed as we have seen done to children and other innocents, then death is the only possible consequence – swift and as merciful as the situation allows, but to spare such monsters is to doom more innocents. There are those who quail at such a hard determination, but no one who has seen the work of Al Qaeda could be fooled into thinking they remain human. In terms of practical effect, the knowledge that Al Qaeda members will summarily executed will drive people to make a quick decision either to join them in all aspects, or to give them up to the Coalition to avoid sharing their fate.
If someone is apprehended on something less than certain knowledge, however, the matter becomes more difficult. Such situations must not be confused with common crime, yet there must be a system whic grants appropriate responses to conditions of doubt or extenuating circumstances. For that purpose, I defer to the proven success of military tribunals. While those who cannot respect the American military officer will bridle at the notion, the fact remains that military officers are the people most competent to judge by the facts rather than the emotions or politics of the moment, and they are as a group impressively successful in addressing individual cases with the right mix of justice and mercy. I can think of no better system than the one in place, however much the Left scorns and mocks it.