Cries of inhumane treatment are unjustified

The United States is, indeed, the most powerful nation in the world as the months following Sept. 11 have proved. To most people, this was common knowledge, given the nation’s wealth and technology. The few who doubted it are currently cowering in their caves, hoping the next 15,000-pound Daisy Cutter bomb doesn’t find the entrance.

The northern alliance fought the Taliban for 10 years with little result. The United States destroyed the illegitimate government in 10 weeks. The United States’ strategic dominance in the war in Afghanistan has been so complete, the loss of a U.S. soldier is perceived as more due to U.S. error than enemy aggression. But while U.S. handling of the war has been supported by most of the world, that support has not extended to the manner in which the United States has detained its prisoners.

Such diplomacy while fighting its enemies on the battlefield has placed unrealistic expectations on how diplomatic the nation can be in detaining them in its prisons. This is particularly true of prisoners such as the Taliban and al-Qaida soldiers, who would prefer anything – including suicide – to imprisonment. Unlike prisoners of war of the past, these detainees have a boundless hatred for their enemy and nothing to lose; after all, this is their jihad.

The difference between fighting Taliban and al-Qaida forces and holding them prisoner, is the latter requires a U.S. presence, both in Guantanamo Bay and – in the case of John Walker Lindh, Richard Reid and Zacharias Moussaoui – here in the United States. Superior tactical intelligence and technology allowed the U.S. military the advantage of not always having to be on the battlefield. But to detain these enemies as prisoners, Americans must always be present, closely monitoring these fanatics, some of whom have sworn to kill an American before they leave or would commit suicide if given the chance.

Our military must constrain these terrorists who have already shown they are prepared to attack U.S. soldiers by any means necessary, including biting. For the majority of these detainees, capture provides their best opportunity to attack the flesh and blood of an enemy they have only seen through bombs and missiles.

Recent video footage showing the Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay – on their knees, wearing jumpsuits and masks – has enraged the United Nations as well as members of the coalition in the war against terror. Both have deemed the U.S. treatment of prisoners as cruel and inhumane. Never mind the fact that coalition soldiers, had they been captured, wouldn’t have been treated any better by the Taliban or al-Qaida, and would have been lucky to even have a head to put a mask on.

But the masks put on Taliban soldiers aren’t for the sake of cruelty, but for safety. First, several Taliban prisoners came into Guantanamo Bay afflicted with tuberculosis, an airborne disease the masks will prevent from spreading. And second, did I mention they bite?

The whining of the United Nations should be ignored. There are problems inherent in allowing the United Nations to handle military affairs. The news footage of slain U.S. soldiers, being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu and kicked and spat upon by Somalis, comes to mind.

But the United States must communicate and work with its allies. Even the most powerful nation in the world needs friends. The problem for the rest of the world lies in the fact it applies the rules of old wars to an entirely different and new type of conflict. This isn’t an example of the world waging war against a nation or coalition, as World War II was. Rather, it is a case of the world waging war against a particular movement, which calls no land home. Because they recognize neither government nor any goal beyond terror, the title “prisoners of war” does not apply to these detainees.

Terrorists infect not only the Muslim world, but also parts of Europe – even the United States. Very few of the terrorists now in captivity come from Afghanistan. Many come from Saudi Arabia, some from Iran and still others from Yemen. Reid has British citizenship and Lindh is an American (at least by birth).

Some argue that any person, terrorist or not, deserves the rights of his country. Why? Why should the government of any country work to protect individuals that would directly attempt to destroy it? Bear in mind we are not talking about political activists or those who would side against the government on any of a number of social issues. This country, as with most of the free world, is a democracy. We are talking about those who would participate in plots to cause great violence in the land of their origin and kill the people who live there – people such as Reid, who before boarding a plane abused his English passport so he might draw less attention to himself than his Middle Eastern passport would. He boarded a flight and tried to blow up the passenger plane but was foiled as he was trying to ignite the bomb incased in the base of his shoe.

The same reasons to deny POW status apply to Lindh (who was raised on our very own soil and under our flag). Had he gone to Afghanistan, trained under the Taliban, witnessed the actions of Sept. 11 and fled home, then he would deserve the rights entitled to a citizen under the Constitution. But Lindh
didn’t do that; he stayed in Afghanistan with those who would readily kill Americans, and he fought alongside the Taliban until his capture. Now the very Constitution he would work to destroy should help to defend him? When the first plane struck the World Trade Center and Lindh stayed in Afghanistan, he lost any rights under the Constitution.

The treatment of Lindh and the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay has drawn sharp criticism from the rest of the world. Yet the actions taken by the U.S. government are still much better than terrorists deserve. The Geneva Convention states civilians are never to be targets in war – yet the Sept. 11 terrorists did their best to hit as many civilians as possible. The rules of the Convention have never discouraged the violent actions of terrorists; thus, the rules of the Convention shouldn’t affect the way we treat them.

In a recent interview, ABC News anchor Peter Jennings asked new Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai if the prisoners held by the United States should be classified as prisoners of war, thereby giving them rights under the Geneva Convention. Karzai responded, “They’re terrorists. They have not been captured in a regular war. They were there to kill Afghan people. They did kill Afghan people, positively.” Well said, President Karzai. Well said.


Chris Schafer’s column appears alternate Wednesdays. He welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]