Detainees at Guantanamo get halal meals, a place to sleep, a prayer rug, their own copy of the Koran and most of them get some limited recreation time. They are, in other words, treated far more humanely than they will ever treat anyone else. They behead and mutilate anyone they capture.
Among those detained at Gitmo have been Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the massacre on 9-11 and (thanks to aggressive interrogation) the man who fingered American terrorist Adam Gadahn; and Abu Zubaydah, who among other things dispatched US citizen Jose Padilla on a mission to Chicago to scout for a dirty bomb attack and to orchestrate a series of explosions in apartment buildings around that city. Had Padilla succeeded, yesterday’s explosion in New York would have been carried out and magnified times 10 in Chicago. And it would have been followed up by a bomb attack using radiological materials, possibly dwarfing the death toll on 9-11 itself. If KSM and Zubaydah were not in Gitmo, these terrorists would be planning and plotting more attacks just like the ones that have worked and the ones that their incarceration stopped.
Apparently most of the entire world has forgotten just who is in Gitmo, how they got there and how we have actually treated them. Other than subjecting a few of them to aggressive interrogation techniques that fall far below any reasonable definition of torture, we have treated them well. We have treated them in accordance with the Geneva Conventions in relation to their standing as illegal combatants as defined by the Conventions. Actually, we have treated them better than the Conventions mandate, since under the definitions we could have considered every single member of al Qaeda a spy caught out of uniform and shot on the spot of capture.
We could have done that, but if we had we would have lost a great deal of intelligence that was gained through interrogations. But all that’s over now. In the wake of the Hamdan decision–a decision in which the US Supreme Court inserted itself into the executive branch’s wartime authority–the Pentagon is announcing that all of the detainees will get Article 3 treatment. Allah has posted on some of the legal implications. Bottom line: this will have profound implications on the future conduct of the war. Among other things, it will end useful intelligence-gathering from captured terrorists and may mean scrapping military tribunals, granting captured terrorist access to our civilian courts:
Concerning a replacement for the tribunals, Mr. Snow said the administration intended to work with Congress to devise a system of justice for terror suspects, as the court had required. At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Steven Bradbury, a Justice Department official, laid out the administration’s case for making changes to the system of military tribunals rather than scrapping them altogether.
“All the issues with military commissions identified by the Supreme Court can be addressed and resolved through legislation,’’ Mr. Bradbury said.
Mr. Bradbury said that traditional military courts offered such strong protections to defendants as to make them worthless in the fight against terrorism. Soldiers coming upon suspected Al Qaeda members on a battlefield in Afghanistan would have to immediately inform them of their Miranda rights, and cease questioning if they requested a lawyer, he said.
“You’re not going to get much out of them at that point,’’ Mr. Bradbury said.
Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, responded that such a requirement “could make the difference between whether thousands die or not.’’
In practical terms, this means we will capture fewer terrorists, or at least that we should capture fewer of them. The point of capturing them up to now has been the possibility of gathering intelligence on terrorist operations and future attacks from those captured. In the wake of Hamdan and granting all captured terrorists Article 3 rights, what is the point of capturing any terrorist now? If the intelligence value goes away, and it very much has, and if once captured, terrorists are allowed trials in which sensitive wartime data will be released in open court, the value of trying them become nil, and as captured enemy combatants they become an albatross. Why try to get a 15-year sentence for a terrorist when the cost is exposing so much intelligence that still has wartime value? That’s not a sensible trade-off. So we won’t capture them. We’ll either kill them on the spot or let them go–a terrorist catch-and-release program.
Andrew Sullivan and his ilk can crow about this change all they want to, but the bottom line that in the name of misreading and misinterpreting a bunch of rules drafted long before the idea of transnational terrorism equipped with WMDs was even conceived, we have now chosen to throw down one of the most important weapons available to us: intelligence gleaned from captured terrorists. People will die because of this decision, for the simple reason that we will no longer ask captured terrorists what they know and who they’re working with. We have made ourselves like a giant battling a swarm of poisonous hornets, but the giant has chosen to gouge his own eyes out and stuff his ears with cotton as he goes into the battle.
How does a country win a war when it has systematically stripped itself of its clandestine tools and publicly thrown off nearly all of its other ones? How does a country win a war when its top warrior breaks down like a baby in public when talking about his family history? How does a country win a war when it lacks a single leader who’s willing to look the enemy in the eye and do whatever it takes to defeat that enemy?
I have no idea.
But I do know that litigating this war and granting rights to mass murderers won’t get us there.
Update: Macsmind takes a much more positive look at this than I do. This is one of those times I’d rather be wrong than right, but watching the way the administration and Pentagon keep caving on so many things, I just doubt that Bush and Co have much fight left in them. But I could be wrong, and I hope that I am.
CORRECTION: After further review, Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah were probably not at Gitmo during their incarceration with US forces. The case for putting Zubaydah there is a little stronger than for Mohammed, but not by much. So I probably got that wrong in the article above. The two were aggressively interrogated at other locations, and have given up a great deal of useful intelligence that has led to stopping al Qaeda attacks and arresting other terrorist figures.