DURING THE LAST FEW WEEKS in Washington the pieties about torture have lain
so thick in the air that it has been impossible to have a reasoned discussion.
The McCain amendment that would ban "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment of
any prisoner by any agent of the United States sailed through the Senate by a
vote of 90-9. The Washington establishment remains stunned that nine such
retrograde, morally inert persons--let alone senators--could be found in this
...the only purpose of detention in ... is to prevent the prisoner
from becoming a combatant again, he is entitled to all the protections and
dignity of an ordinary domestic prisoner--indeed, more privileges, because,
unlike the domestic prisoner, he has committed no crime. He merely had the
misfortune to enlist on the other side of a legitimate war. He is therefore
entitled to many of the privileges enjoyed by an ordinary citizen--the right to
send correspondence, to engage in athletic activity and intellectual pursuits,
to receive allowances from relatives--except, of course, for the freedom to
leave the prison.
Second, there is the captured terrorist. A terrorist is by profession, indeed by
definition, an unlawful combatant: He lives outside the laws of war because he
does not wear a uniform, he hides among civilians, and he deliberately targets
innocents. He is entitled to no protections whatsoever. People seem to
think that the postwar Geneva Conventions were written only to protect
detainees. In fact, their deeper purpose was to provide a deterrent to the kind
of barbaric treatment of civilians that had become so horribly apparent during
the first half of the 20th century, and in particular, during the Second World
The idea was to deter the abuse of civilians by promising
combatants who treated noncombatants well that they themselves would be treated
according to a code of dignity if captured--and, crucially, that they would be
denied the protections of that code if they broke the laws of war and abused
Breaking the laws of war and abusing civilians are what, to understate the matter vastly, terrorists do for a living. They are entitled, therefore, to nothing. Anyone who blows up a car bomb in a market deserves to spend the rest of his life roasting on a spit over an open fire. But we don't do that because we do not descend to the level of our enemy. We don't do that because, unlike him, we are civilized. Even though terrorists are entitled to no humane treatment, we give it to them because it is in our nature as a moral and humane people. And when on rare occasions we fail to do that, as has occurred in several of the fronts of the war on terror, we are duly disgraced.
The norm, however, is how the majority of prisoners at Guantanamo have been treated. We give them three meals a day, superior medical care, and provision to pray five times a day. Our scrupulousness extends even to providing them with their own Korans, which is the only reason alleged abuses of the Koran at Guantanamo ever became an issue. That we should have provided those who kill innocents in the name of Islam with precisely the document that inspires their barbarism is a sign of the absurd lengths to which we often go in extending undeserved humanity to terrorist prisoners.
Read it in it's entirety, please do. The loons will throw Abu Ghraib into ANY discussion of our treatment of captured terrorists as if it were the norm rather than the oddity. People make mistakes, stupid people make stupid mistakes, and conduct during a time of war can and does evolve into missconduct. It is not our policy to trot 'em out and dress 'em up, regardless of what the loons believe, and the government has apologized profusely for the inappropriate actions of a few. The fact remains that no prisoner of any war has ever been treated as well as those we hold today. We do need to get smarter, we do need to stay on top of our game, but terrorists, as Mr. Krauthammer says, do not deserve to be treated BETTER than the run of the mill POW simply because it's fashionable to defend Islam, and/or show how wonderfully merciful we can be. It's prison. They are there for a reason, and they are lucky we do not execute them for such atrocities against humanity.