I read today that President Obama signed executive orders to close Guantanamo Bay, and to restrict interrogation of battlefield detainees to regulations in the Army Field Manual. What this entails is no harsh interrogation techniques. We can try to create inducements for them to give us the information we want, but no roughing up allowed. Army Field Manual regulations were probably adopted in the first place because it used to be assumed that if we went to war with an enemy, violence would be restricted for the most part to military targets. Casualties are to be expected in this kind of combat. So if a captured soldier is not timely in giving us information, that is still a bad thing, but not terrible. It’s accepted as part of the cost of war. The thing is, while the jihadists do strike military targets they feel perfectly fine about hitting civilians, too. So such regulations are incompatible with the reality of the enemy we face.
This action on Obama’s part is a partial fulfillment of what I predicted 3 years ago. We are now so inured to the terrorist threat, we’re almost willing to believe that the end of the War on Terror is within sight and that we should be able to return to a pre-9/11 state of affairs–back to the Clinton era when jihadist violence was thought of as a far away problem that could be managed. We can treat jihadists who think they are at war with us as international criminals, rather like the mafia. You remember when the mafia assassinated President Kennedy, and brought down the Empire State Building, right?…I didn’t think so. We will try them in civilian courts to show how “civilized” we are. What we forget is the jihadists we face are societal hackers. They are not afraid of us, nor of our system of justice. They merely view it as an obstacle to their ultimate goal. The thinking goes that treating them this way will return international respect to the U.S. The question is will this stop jihadist attacks against the U.S.? No, I don’t think so. Obama has placed principle above pragmatism in this instance. Will we be attacked again? My sense is not right away. We have dealt a serious blow to the organization of international terrorist activities. They are not as effective as they used to be, thanks to our “rough treatment”, but I think that over time they will regain strength and confidence in their abilities to attack us under this administration. Obama talks tough, but I have yet to see his bite on the international stage.
One sign of this is that while Obama has proclaimed to the world that we will act more “civilized”, he hasn’t laid out a clear strategy of what we will do differently. What’s going to be done with the Guantanamo detainees? My own prediction is he will bring them to the U.S. and attempt to try them in our civilian courts. A mistake to be sure, but hey, at least we will be living up to our principles, right? FDR never censored the press during WW II, right? Lincoln didn’t violate anyone’s rights during the Civil War. We were true to our principles. Oy vay! How ignorant we are of our history.
All of the detainees at Guantanamo were read their Miranda rights when they were captured, weren’t they? The soldiers who captured them were careful to collect evidence with warrants issued by a judge, right? Wrong on both counts. If Obama thinks we’re going to be able to try these detainees as criminals he’s in for a big surprise. Or perhaps I’m overdoing this. Democrats have talked of giving detainees access to the courts merely to determine if they are in fact a threat to the country, or if they were captured wrongfully. There are indications that some were captured wrongfully in Afghanistan, not because of errors made on our part, but because of racial strife. Reportedly, after our invasion of Afghanistan, Afghanis captured any ethnic Arabs they could find and turned them over to the U.S. military as enemy combatants, regardless of whether they were on the battlefield or not. They just wanted to get rid of them. In any case, Obama hasn’t said how the detainees are going to be processed, nor what the purpose of the proceedings will be.
Perhaps Obama has a good offense up his sleeve against the jihadists. He’s been able to dupe the American people into voting for him without knowing a thing about him. Maybe he can effectively counteract the propaganda that the jihadists use in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe to fuel their operations. That’s the one hope I have for him. If he could win the war against the jihadists just in the political realm it would be an interesting and amazing victory. The only problem is I have not heard anything from him that indicates he’s even thinking along these lines. He may have the ability. Will he use it?
Edit 1/23/09: I heard on the news today that Obama’s order to stop rough interrogation techniques was only “for now”, not permanently. He’s just pausing the use of the techniques so that practices will be open for review. Obama also said that harsher techniques may be brought back into play if the Attorney General approves them, which Fox News noted is just what happened in the Bush Administration. Oh, so maybe we will waterboard somebody if we’re desperate enough. Sigh. It’s difficult to trust what the news is telling me. One day “It’s over”. The next day, “Well, not so fast.” I think I remember this from the Clinton Administration…