Friday, May 06, 2005

Thinking About the War on Terror

This started life as a reply to a comment left on my "Don't You Like These Big American Breasts" post. It might make more sense to read that first. This is a longer than usual post but I hope you'll read it through to the end, particularly my American readers.

As far as using the Geneva Convention to govern the treatment of terrorist prisoners the Justice Department has already ruled that these rules do not apply. Further details are here.

The reason the Geneva Convention does not apply- quite apart from the fact that these terrorists do not fight for any state, they do not act themselves by these standards and have never signed the convention- is that the Convention was created as a set of rules to define how war should be fought. These terrorists do not wear uniforms, they hide amongst the crowd, they hide their weapons, they deliberately target civilians. This is one of the major reasons why I do not believe that they should be accorded the same standard of treatment as a civilian prisoner in a police cell- when soldiers go to war, they do so knowing full well what to expect and they have volunteered to undertake this dangerous job. Civilians doing their weekend shopping or going to work or playing with their children have not- and they do not deserve to be deliberately targeted by terrorists with bombs or bullets. It's this very activity which I believe means that extra measures should be taken when questioning them. Measures which I believe are morally acceptable.

I do believe the techniques used at Gitmo are entirely acceptable when it comes to the treatment meted out to our own troops captured by the enemy. First rate medical care, decent food and a complete lack of violence. Keeping someone in a stress position, for example, might make them uncomfortable but I certainly do not categorise it as torture. There's a vast difference between making someone lean against a wall for a few hours or offending their religion, and beating them with batons, or punching and kicking them. Likewise shackling and hooding prisoners to prevent them killing their guards is not torture- it's a sensible safety measure.

As a resident of Northern Ireland I've lived in a society which became more than used to bombings and shootings. Nationalist terrorists targeted not just soldiers (who were originally put on the streets to protect the nationalist community) but also off-duty police officers and civilians. Even builders or painters working in police stations have been murdered here. The United States has a long way to go before it gets to the state Ulster has been in for the past thirty years, but if the terrorist problem is not stopped overseas then measures will be put in place which every citizen of the US will no doubt despise- can you imagine having your bags searched by private security guards before you enter a shop?

The simple fact is that groups exist which are determined to destroy the US and everything it stands for. Freedom, tolerance, rights for all- these are the standards which I'm sure Patient Voice of Reason and the war supporters on the other side of the aisle both admire and cherish. These are also the very things that the terrorists wish to destroy. Can you imagine a time when a policeman has to check his car to make sure that there isn't a bomb attached to it before he gets in each morning to drive to work? Can you imagine what it's like to go to the mall and wonder if the next terrorist bomb is going to be planted there? The one big difference between the IRA and the enemy we face is that the IRA never had suicide bombers- how much harder is it going to be to stop a man with a few pounds of explosives strapped to his body, or women with Semtex in their bras? Think on the campaign waged against the civilians of Israel for a moment- people blown up on buses, restaurants demolished by car bombs, people attacked as they drive. Now transplant that to the US and just think about how the authorities could fight that war.

The problem here is that the enemy has proven that he will stoop as low as possible to inflict casualties- flying planes into buildings, strapping explosive vests to children, leaving bombs by the side of the road, driving car bombs into a crowd of children clustered around an American vehicle, murdering hundreds of children at school. Islamic terrorism is a threat not just to American soldiers in Iraq- it's a threat to everyone everywhere. Beslan wasn't on any front line, neither was the Madrid train. To fight men like these, who are willing to kill anyone, takes extra steps. I'm not for one moment advocating that detainees are ruthlessly beaten or anything like that, but if a little pressure is applied then I do find that acceptable. And the pressure the American interrogators are using is something that I do think is acceptable to be used against "our guys"- in fact, I think that the troops would agree with me that they'd rather be in a prison run along the lines of Gitmo than one controlled by al-Zarqawi. If a man has his faith insulted in the process of preventing more deaths, that's not torture. There's a difference between name-calling and torture. The men at Gitmo do have the protection of law and decency- sure, it's not the same as a civilian prisoner, but they are not civilian prisoners, they were captured trying to kill American and Allied troops. Offending someone's religion might strike you as harsh, but it's not as harsh as someone being shot or blown up, and that's exactly what the troops as Gitmo are trying to stop. Put it this way- someone in court for an unpaid parking ticket shouldn't be shackled hand and foot, but it's a reasonable precaution to do the same to a multiple murderer. The men at Gitmo are enemy combatants, some with terrorist training, so surely it's reasonable to afford them extra attention in their questioning and imprisonment.

I can appreciate the point Patient Voice of Reason was trying to make, that everyone deserves the full protection of the law but these men are protected, there are rules in place governing how they are treated. It might not be exactly the same as in a police station, but that's because this is a different set of circumstances. At most I'd call their treatment 'stern' but it's not torture.

I believe deeply and passionately in freedom and that was why I joined the military some years ago- I'm sure that that's the one thing the pro- and anti-war sets can both agree on, it's merely in the methods by which it is secured that they disagree.

Take a few moments and imagine this though- really think on it- military helicopters fitted with cameras patrol your skies, armed soldiers the streets, and the police move about in armoured vehicles. Innocent people are regularly murdered by terrorist guns and bombs, so much so that it barely registers on the news any more. Car bombs are left outside army barracks, police stations, shops, people's homes. That's what life here was like up to a few years ago when the terrorist gangs quietened down a little. Now imagine Islamic terror too- jihad against the infidels in which everyone is a target. Imagine Northern Ireland at its worst crossed with Israel at the height of the Intifada. Now put that in your local American town. Al Qaeda might have been thwarted in attacking America since 9/11 but maybe they'll begin to change their tactics soon and forget about high profile targets. Maybe your local Gap or Walmart will be the target on a busy Saturday afternoon. Maybe they'll switch to poisoning water supplies, destroying power sub-stations or bringing down power lines, randomly leaving car bombs in town and city centres to disrupt businesses and destroy property, calling in bomb threats which close down airports or highways for hours on end while police search for the threat. I've seen Belfast brought to a complete standstill with nothing more than a phone call- this War on Terror is currently being fought overseas but it could just as easily come to America's shores. The IRA operated for thirty years while the British Intelligence service- surely one of the best in the world- fought them, and yet still the bombings and shootings continued. Terrorists can be sophisticated operators and preventing them carrying out atrocities can be nigh on impossible. America's borders are not secure, terrorists are most likely already in the country. It's a matter of understanding the scale of the threat and then asking yourself- how far am I prepared to go to ensure the safety of my country? Rubbing ink on a prisoner's face is a small price to pay to stop another airliner crashing into a building.

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