Ask Questions… Never

Shoot To Kill

I found this in the economist. It’s an interesting insight into the contradictory demands placed upon a commander in chief.

After more than a year in power, Mr Obama has still not figured out what to do with terrorist suspects captured on foreign soil. He has not yet fulfilled his promise to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay because he does not know what to do with the remaining inmates. Some are deemed too dangerous to release, but cannot easily be prosecuted. In some cases, evidence was obtained by coercion; in others, through intelligence sources that the administration does not want revealed in court. Mr Obama will not rule out holding them indefinitely without charge, but he knows this makes America look bad. He does not want to add to the problem by bringing more foreign jihadists into American custody. Instead, American forces are either killing them or letting less squeamish allies detain them.

In September, for example, America tracked down a much-wanted terrorist in Somalia. Saleh Ali Nabhan was accused of helping to blow up the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and was thought to have been the main liaison between al-Qaeda and its Somali ally, al-Shabab. Had he been captured and questioned, he could have been a mine of useful intelligence. But there is no functioning Somali government to hand him over to, so American helicopters vaporised him. This seems to be the rule, not the exception. A recent Washington Post investigation of Mr Obama’s war against al-Qaeda leaders abroad found “dozens of targeted killings and no reports of high-value detentions” by American forces.

Suspected terrorists caught on American soil are of course taken into American custody. But those caught in Iraq are swiftly handed over to the Iraqis. Those spotted in Pakistan are detained by the Pakistanis—as several senior Taliban commanders were in recent weeks, thanks in part to American intelligence. America maintains a prison at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, but this will be turned over to the Afghans by the end of the year. None of these countries has a reputation for comfortable cells and polite jailers. In short, it is far from clear that Mr Obama’s policies have led to gentler treatment for terrorist suspects abroad. The opposite may be true. Hence the howls of anguish from human-rights activists who once thought Mr Obama was their man. Hence, also, the urgent need for a coherent detainee policy.

Yeah, that would be a problem. Just what do you do with people who are not in the enemy regular army, who are motivated an skilled to do guerrilla warfare or suicide bombing, and are capable of organising cells to do this stuff? You can’t try them in a civil court, they’re not technically POWs, they’re a danger and menace to the civilised world and you have people screaming human rights at you back home. Best to just blow them away and let God sort them all out – which is essentially us, devolving to the level they’re on, because that’s about the ethical and moral sophistication they’re coming with as they attack the western world.

But it’s that Nietszchean problem of staring into the darkness until the darkness stares back at you. If you traffic in the assassinations of these leaders, then how long before they start using assassinations as their modus operandii? This isn’t just a problem for Obama alone (or his predecessor GW Bush for that matter), this is a problem for the entire civilised world in dealing with those who would choose such a tactic to weaken us through the binding agents of our very civilisation.

When camp X-Ray was created in Guantanamo back in the early part of this decade, it struck me as almost fiendishly funny how the Bush administration created a sort of legal lacuna into which they bracketed the whole problem and tried to keep it out of civillian courts in the USA. Was this right? I didn’t and still don’ t think so – but you had to hand it to Rummy and Wolfy for coming up with such a unique *space*, just to deal with the unique problem.

The quick answer I guess, is that fighting such a foe is going to demand that we adapt ourselves either ethically, – that is to say developing a proper legal frame work to tackle such *suspects*/*perpetrators – or compromise ourselves from our moral frame work by doing a deal with the metaphorical devil. So far, the latter option has won over the former, and it doesn’t say anything good about our civilisation.

The states dealing with the problem need a sort of Geneva Convention to cover guerrilla combatants and Terror cell combatants, on which they can all agree, rather than trying to reach for the higher moral ground. After all the water is rising way too fast.

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