Tags: Why | Favor | Legal | Treatment | Terrorists

Why I Favor Legal Treatment of Terrorists

Friday, 15 September 2006 12:00 AM

Terrorists define themselves and their organizations by their wanton acts of violence, hostage taking, indiscriminate targeting of civilians, intimidation tactics, and unconventional warfare including car bombs and roadside bombs aimed at maximizing civilian casualties.

So when they're caught, it's natural to want to employ any means possible to get information that might aid the United States in its efforts to stamp out terrorist organizations. This raises some thought-provoking questions.

Do terrorists deserve the protection of conventional treatment and a conventional legal trial? It is tempting, very tempting, to say; no; they deserve treatment befitting those who would use innocent civilians as shields even if it involves torture and the denial of a fair trial.

But there are three major problems with such a view.

First, how can we expect our own people, if taken prisoner, by terrorists, to be treated in a humane way, when we do not offer it to our own prisoners who are captured as terrorist suspects?

You will find that veteran armed services leaders, including Sen. John McCain and retired Gen. Colin Powell, are increasingly concerned over this issue.

If we are to risk our men and women on the frontline against terror, then we want them to be protected from abuse, torture, and trial without the legal protections we have fought for over centuries. This even-handed humane treatment, of prisoners of war was devised by civilized nations and enshrined in the Geneva Conventions.

Broadly speaking, the Geneva Conventions have been honored to a surprisingly large extent, for decades.

Second, most other civilized nations believe passionately in the Geneva Conventions.

This is vitally important. The United States relies on cooperation of its allies, particularly in the worldwide gathering of intelligence, for counter terror measures.

In 1945, the leaders of Germany and Japan were put on trial for not obeying the Geneva Conventions, led by the United States along with the Allies. The free world is not only surprised, but openly disgusted at the way in which the current American administration appears to have tried to slide around the Geneva Conventions by using illegal torture and the imprisonment of its suspects, without either a charge or even a trial.

Third, the use of military tribunals in place of normal trials is fraught with problems.

It is one thing to protect witnesses and sources of intelligence, but it is quite another to deny normal standards of proof, legal process, and protection to suspects, who we must assume, according to our own law, as innocent until proved guilty.

These are difficult issues. But they are clearly finite measures of the civilization to which we all aspire and which protects us at home.

They are very tough and demanding standards. But they represent the moral high ground that divides the civilized nations from the rest.

Why is this vitally important? The key American strategy by which it is conducting the war on terror is called The Global Ideological Strategy Against Violent Extremism (GISAVE).

To have any chance of winning this ideological struggle amongst our potential enemies and of winning over Allies from amongst the civilized nations, America must place the ethics of its method of conducting counter-terror at the very top of its agenda.

The current lax attention to the Geneva Conventions displayed by the U.S. government is already endangering America's key Ideological Strategy. Now, it risks losing important allies, both at home and abroad.

Today, Gen. Colin Powell and Sens. John McCain and John Warner, all loyal republicans, have spoken out publicly, demanding urgent attention to this matter.

These loyal Americans are not alone. The leaders and citizens of the civilized world are right behind.

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Terrorists define themselves and their organizations by their wanton acts of violence, hostage taking, indiscriminate targeting of civilians, intimidation tactics, and unconventional warfare including car bombs and roadside bombs aimed at maximizing civilian...
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2006-00-15
Friday, 15 September 2006 12:00 AM
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