Thursday, October 26, 2006

Why Gitmo is Good

I'm going to make an unpractical and irresponsible statement: I think Guantanamo Bay is a necessary place. No, let me be bold, I think Guantanamo Bay is a positive good, a tribute to the mercy and decency of America. Now I will duck to avoid the thrown objects. But after you throw them, please read on and see the depths of my madness...

These days it's popular to criticize the internment camp at Guantanamo Bay. And this is easy to understand. After all, who really likes internment camps? (If you show this to someone and they respond that they do, watch them very closely.) And, in a war with a clear public relations aspect, we simply cannot afford the black mark of Guantanamo, we are told. Worse, some say, torture and abuse happen there each day, and surely that can't be what we're fighting for.

Before continuing, go now and read this excellent series here at Patterico's Pontifications. It's by a former psychological nurse at Gitmo, who worked with the detainees. Not to interrogate, or to control, but to help and heal them. He saw mentally ill men, and quite sane ones, vicious killers and naive dupes. His description of his time there is important information you should know, and will disabuse you of the notion that Gitmo is some Inquisitorial prison in which detainees are tortured until they confess their crimes and renounce Islam for consumerism. (Or whatever strange notions you hold about the place. Well, unless you think it's like Monty Python's Spanish Inquistion: oddly that has some truth, at least the part about the Comfy Chair.)

But there's no question that it's a prison, full of many people charged with no formal crime and interred for an essentially unlimited sentence. It's the sort of place that no good person can be pleased with. Each day many voices cry for the closing of the camp. But closing the camp does raise one small problem: what do we do with those interred there?

At first this seems a simple question: send them home. Except that in many cases their governments don't want them. (Oddly, it turns out that those captured fighting as volunteers for Al Qaeda and the Taliban are frequently the sort of misfits and annoyingly religious zealots that most authoritarian regimes are happier rid of.) And in many other cases, their governments want them all too eagerly—usually because they have a nice cell, interrogation room, and execution chamber all lined up. So we can't send them home, at least not without guarantees that we'll never get, from governments we really can't trust to keep them in any event.

Okay, then, let's try them in civilian courts. But why crime, what provable crime, have they committed? Most were captured either as enemy combatants, bearing arms against our troops in nasty wars in the Far Away. But is that really illegal, if one isn't an American citizen? Can we really say that it's a crime to fight against US soldiers in foreign lands? And most of the rest are known al Qaeda operatives, some probably responsible for terrible things. But can we prove these charges? We may know, beyond any doubt that this man or that one is a high-ranking officer of al Qaeda, and definitely a declared enemy of the United States. But is that a crime? My guess is the number of detainees who could be formally charged and convicted in a court of law is small indeed.

Okay, then, let's try them before military tribunals, as specified in the Geneva Conventions, to determine their status. Well, that does seem to be what we'll do, but by the volume of whining about it, it appears this isn't really a popular option either. And let's admit that in many cases the tribunals will probably find that they're enemy combatants (either legal or illegal) and, well, put them back in Gitmo.

Or, I suppose, we could just let them go and trust that they're really good people at heart who were mistakenly and unjustly swept up. Except that they're not. Or at least many of them aren't. They're highly motivated and fanatically devoted warriors in a holy cause. If you let those people go, they will simply try to kill you again. Sure, some of them are just innocent men, and others, maybe many, are truly tired of jihad and will go home and get back to life. But many, the hardline true believers, will simply kill more American soldiers, citizens, or allies. So we can't let them all go either.

It turns out that Gitmo is necessary, because we keep capturing people we can't repatriate, convict, or release. Perhaps some of the detainees at Guantanamo are innocent and should go home. Perhaps many of them are. Certainly we should do what we can to identify these people and free them. But a large number aren't innocent and we can't dodge the question through moral posturing or scripted outrage. We have to face the music: what are we going to do with these hardened killers determined to bring down our society?

In earlier days, this wasn't a dilemma, because we had a clear answer. We killed them. Frequently we never let the issue come up in the first place because we just wouldn't take them captive. Fighters who intentionally wear civilian dress without some clear sign of their status (an armband, telltale headgear, etc.) aren't POWs if you capture them. They're spies and saboteurs. Often they were killed in the field, or captured and turned over to the tender mercies of our local allies. And, in fact, in Afghanistan there are many more men languishing in Afghan prisons under far worse conditions than Guantanamo Bay.

But, because we desired information and because we wanted to separate out the innocent and salvagable from the hardened killers, we ended up bringing many to Guantanamo. So now they're under our custody, not our allies', and we have to decide what to do. Because we don't like killing or cruelty, we have chosen to build a place to house and care for these men, many of whom hate us so much that they would gleefully slaughter our families upon release. Rather than "disappear" or "vanish" them, we ensure that the Red Cross visits them and we even allow them to send messages home so that their families know they're alive. We feed them excellent food, specially prepared according to their exacting religious needs. We grant them each a Koran, and are careful not to mistreat it or mishandle it. We provide mats for prayer and indicate the direction of Mecca, for the convenience of our enemies. We make spiritual guidance, medical care, and psychological counseling available—in some cases services superior to those enjoyed by the guards and staff!

And for our trouble we are scorned by the world, including by nations whose prisons make Guantanamo seem a five-star resort. We are hated more, perhaps, than we would be if we simply killed these men. We are held to a standard impossible to meet, and which has never been met in any conflict by any nation. And we are told that because we don't meet this standard, we are no better than those we fight.

Why would we do this? Because we are better than those we fight. We are fighting committed, religious, focused men who hate us because they believe we are responsible for great evils and, above all, for rebellion against God. They see themselves as God's avengers and are full of the self-righteousness of the self-appointed scourge of God. But we return mercy for their violence because we too see ourselves (whether we admit it or not) as the soldiers of God. But, in our minds, a God who says "it is mercy I require, not sacrifice," who commands "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," and who proclaims that "the measure you measure with will be measured back to you."

If we really were like our enemies, Gitmo would be a true chamber of horrors. Secure in our self-righteous knowledge that we were God's annointed we would mercilessly interrogate the enemies of God, learn what we could, and then joyously butcher them for the glory and honor of the Most High. But we are not like our enemies, and Guantanamo Bay, for all its many faults and moral quandries, is an expression not of our wrath, but of our mercy.

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