A few thoughts about the how the world’s perception of the US has changed during the past eight years and some of the causes for that shift.
The nature of the beast before us lies in definitions; terrorists, enemy combatants, torture, Constitutional – how do we define, explain and otherwise understand what these words mean. Not only must we as citizens understand them but they must also have legal definitions that are accepted by the three sides in the courtroom; judge, defence, prosecution. Without common definitions, there can be no communications.
“Your terrorist is my freedom fighter” is an aphorism of unknown origin but relevant to this discussion. Those who participated in the attacks of Sept 11, 2001 are by anyone’s definition ‘terrorists’ but so also is the person(s) unknown who mailed anthrax to various people in the same year. Remember that almost the entire world grieved with the US after Sept 11, even nations that today are considered enemies. Yes, I know that TV brought us images of the ‘Arab street’ and its celebrations over the successful jihadist attack but those were people who have been influenced by an ideology that shifted blame from the old colonial powers to the new imperialist, the US. The governments of those nations all sent their condolences and condemnations.
The definition becomes problematic when it is applied to the Iraqi or Afghan who attacks US or Allied troops, or who is making IEDs for use against not only our guys and girls but against those in their own country that they see as collaborators. Every picture from Abu Ghraib, every testimony from those who are released after “harsh interrogation” every tale from those who suffered from “extraordinary rendition” creates an image, creates a cause that can be used to recruit more and more ‘freedom fighters’ to rise up against the alien invaders. They see themselves as fighting for their nation, their religious beliefs, their culture, their tribe or their family against the demons from the West who know nothing and don’t care to learn. It may not be true but that doesn’t matter because too many BELIEVE it is true. There are saner heads in the American military who understand this and there are some who are not so capable of seeing reality. A scorched earth policy as advocated by the more simple-minded, Chuck Norris types would certainly take care of any problems in the present day and create far more long term. One of the problems the new administration faces is this split between old-style “don’t care what they think – kill ’em” and newer type military who think that understanding the enemy is the first step in reducing their numbers and thereby ensuring fewer casualties but also the prospect of longer term peace.
In the United States the use of the phrase “enemy combatant” may also mean an alleged member of al Qaeda or the Taliban being held in detention by the U.S. government as part of the war on terror. In this sense, “enemy combatant” actually refers to persons the United States regards as unlawful combatants, a category of persons who do not qualify for prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Conventions. Thus, the term “enemy combatant” has to be read in context to determine whether it means any combatant belonging to an enemy state, whether lawful or unlawful, or if it means an alleged member of al Qaeda or of the Taliban being detained as an unlawful combatant by the United States. – Wikipedia
Let us use the older term, “unlawful combatant” even though the Bush, and now the Obama, administration has created their own ambiguous definitions in President Bush’s Executive Orders as they apply to al Qaeda and Taleban fighters. The original definition covered the idea of paramilitary fighters attacking people, property and national military/law enforcement personnel, that is fighters in an organisation that operates as an army but is not sanctioned by nor is part of any national military OR if, a member of a nation’s military, they enter combat or infiltrate an area in civilian garb. The latter part of the definition could be problematic for the various ‘private’ security forces (Blackwater, et. al) or our own Special Forces/Seals/Delta Force during some of their operations.
The question has been asked
When did any nation provide “habeas corpus” or trials to “terriorists” and enemy combatants in time of on-going hostilities?
It is interesting that some would ask about what other nations have done when one of the big arguments I hear from the right is “The libruls want to force international law on the US”. What nations you ask; well, we could start with the US and the trial of the ‘blind sheik’ and his followers after the 1993 bomb attack on the World Trade Center but we could include Britain and their various trials with the IRA, Spain and its Basque terrorists and France with its system of special courts for terrorists. My point being that other nations have provided trials but it should not be used as argument for or against such trials in the US.
“Habeas Corpus” or ‘show us the body’, that is, bring the accused before the court where the accused may answer the charges AND face the accusers is an ancient tenet in English common law which the American body of law is founded. The excuse most often used as to why these unlawful combatants don’t fall under this classification has been the problem of classified information being discussed in an open courtroom. That is a false objection, courts are often closed to the public when matters of sensitive personal nature are discussed in ordinary criminal trials. There are standards by which a judge or panel of judges may limit the persons in the courtroom when discussion of sensitive intelligence is necessary for the presentation of evidence. The objections under the Bush administration appear to have extended so far as to say that not even the judges could hear the evidence – sort of “Hey, trust us, this is a bad guy”
Torture is not justified at any time and simply because the US Special Forces undergo brief exposure to the pastime of waterboarding does not excuse our use of it against others. In fact, the techniques used in training were meant to educate our soldiers about the types of TORTURE they might undergo if captured. These techniques are provided in several field manuals recently declassified – Wikipedia Following WWII war crime trials, the US executed several Japanese soldiers who had used waterboarding against Allied POWs, also after Vietnam, some American troops were prosecuted for using waterboarding on VC suspects
We also have an admission by a top Bush official
The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a “life-threatening condition.”
“We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani,” said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution.
The interrogation, portions of which have been previously described by other news organizations, including The Washington Post, was so intense that Qahtani had to be hospitalized twice at Guantanamo with bradycardia, a condition in which the heart rate falls below 60 beats a minute and which in extreme cases can lead to heart failure and death. At one point Qahtani’s heart rate dropped to 35 beats per minute, the record shows. –
Ms Crawford goes on to say, “He’s a very dangerous man. What do you do with him now if you don’t charge him and try him? I would be hesitant to say, ‘Let him go.” So yes, I can agree that some of the people held in Gitmo are dangerous but even under Bush, there was an admission that only about 80 of the 250 held presently are considered dangerous. And please don’t bring us the Pentagon’s claim of 61 who were released and returned to combat, that has been shown to be false by multiple sources.
All of which, brings us to two points about torture (1) it doesn’t work and (2) it devalues America, we lower ourselves to the enemy’s level when we or our representative engage in the use of torture.
and finally Constitutional – I ain’t gonna argue (Well, not in this post anyway.), that’s what the Supreme Court of the United States determines.