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« Maybe He'll Get Some Respect Now | Main | Costing Shuttle Rides »

Emptying Prisons In Cuba

No, the headline isn't about a repeat performance by Castro, but about releasing most of the prisoners from Guantanamo. But the story has me scratching my head:

Most of the alleged al Qaeda and Taliban inmates at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are likely to be freed or sent to their home countries for further investigation because many pose little threat and are not providing much valuable intelligence, the facility's deputy commander has said.

OK, seems reasonable to me. But I emphasized those three words to put them in contrast with this:

"We don't have a level of evidence to feel that we can be confident to prosecute them" all, he added, according to the newspaper. "We have guys here who have never told us anything, except to say that they want to cut off the heads of the infidels if they get a chance."

Can someone help me reconcile this? Does someone who "wants to cut off the heads of infidels if they get a chance" really "pose little threat"? I mean, it's not like these are exactly idle desires, as we've seen from the videos recently at various Islamic web sites. They really do it. And last time I checked, I was an infidel, by almost anyone's definition, but certainly by these guys'. So is it unreasonable for me to feel safer if they remain caged up in Guantanamo?

Now I understand that we may not have any legal grounds for holding them within our criminal justice system (though even that's kind of surprising--is it standard practice to parole someone who cheerfully admits that he'll decapitate innocent folks given half a chance?), but we are at war. Frankly, if it were feasible, I'd be happy to cage up everyone who wants to lop off infidels' heads, no matter how many million of them there are. We obviously can't go out and find them all, or read their minds, but if we already have some in custody, and they admit that they're going to try to murder us upon release, does it really make sense to release them?

Of course, it may not make sense to feed and clothe and guard them the rest of their days either. So I've got a modest proposal. How about we shorten a few of them by a few inches? With a pork-fat laden blade? Not all of them, just the ones who profess to think that a fitting fate for us infidels? It might serve as a salutory example, and at least they might quit being stupid and brazen enough to brag about their evil intentions toward us.

Obviously, we're not going to do this, but sometimes I despair of any way of winning this war without resorting to such measures. How do we share a planet with people (and right now there are thousands, perhaps millions) who want nothing except, as the alien said in Independence Day, for us to die? If their minds cannot be changed, and changed in a way that we can feel confident that they've been changed, what can we do short of imprisoning or killing them?

Other than converting, or dying, I mean.

[Via Orin Kerr]

Posted by Rand Simberg at October 06, 2004 09:35 AM
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There might be other options.

Two centuries ago Britain was beginning to see conflicts between capital and labor that disquietingly similar to those between the middle class and aristocracy in prerevolutionary France. The great majority of people on both sides in Britain did not like what unfolded in France. What did they do? Capital and labor both cracked down on the destructive extremists. Conflicts between capital and labor did not cease. But, instead of violent civil war, Britain saw manageable conflict.

Perhaps something like this might be possible vis a vis Islam. Most of the billion or so Muslims aren't suicide bombers. We communicate to them the unacceptability of the murderers. Perhaps, then, they will crack down.

Then there is the Jerry Pournelle option. Stop using Middle Eastern oil. Convert to things like nuclear power and solar power satellites. When the Middle East is a poor ignored backwater, they can hate us all they want. They'll just be powerless to do anything about it.

Posted by Chuck Divine at October 6, 2004 10:12 AM

Rand, we just don't have cause to jail people who haven't committed a crime and with whom we're not at war. I know you say differently, but guess who the US government agrees with?

Posted by Karl Hallowell at October 6, 2004 10:31 AM

Karl, if these aren't the people with whom we're at war (those who want to behead us because we don't share their extreme religion), who are?

Posted by Rand Simberg at October 6, 2004 10:35 AM

I think it was on instapundit somewhere that I read an article about a few insurgents that were killed in Afghanistan recently and a couple of the killed were identified as former Guantanomo bay prisoners. Go figure.

Posted by Josh "Hefty" Reiter at October 6, 2004 10:39 AM

>>Obviously, we're not going to do this, but
>>sometimes I despair of any way of winning this war
>>without resorting to such measures.

Rand, in your despair, you might start looking at a different approach alltogether.

If you are interested, I can recommend the following article:

"A World Neglected"
by Sherle R. Schwenninger

If the two candidates continue to follow their current scripts, the American public will be the big loser. For the nation badly needs a fuller and more honest debate about the lessons of the Bush era and the challenges and choices it has left us with. Given the enormity of these challenges, this is a debate that cannot be left until after the election or be defined by the current policy positions of the candidates themselves. The place to begin this debate is with the "war on terrorism," which both campaigns have made the centerpiece of their foreign policy and national security strategy.


N.B. Please do not despair that the article is published in "the nation".

Posted by at October 6, 2004 11:45 AM

Ooops, I forgot to identify myself in the post above.

Posted by Canute at October 6, 2004 11:48 AM

"Capital and labor both cracked down on the destructive extremists. Conflicts between capital and labor did not cease. But, instead of violent civil war, Britain saw manageable conflict."

Yes, except it was "managed" by the government stepping in and forcing capital to hand over the loot to labor and buy them off. I'd rather not see that happen as the current solution - I have no desire to meet the demands of the Islamists even halfway.

Posted by Ken at October 6, 2004 01:13 PM

Most of the "detainees" (such an antiseptic word for such malignant people) were captured in battle in Afghanistan or Iraq. The laws of war, such as they be - i.e., the various Geneva Convention treaties - don't really have explicit provisions for how to treat trans-national death cultists who pursue their murderous proclivities in civilian dress. But the rules covering members of national military or intelligence establishments who engage in hostilities out of uniform are pretty clear - they can be summarily executed. That's what we OUGHT to do with these lice. We won't, of course, but we should.

Given that we probably won't treat them to extra-judicial life terms in stir, either, the problem is how to keep them recognizable once they can mingle again with regular civilians. May I suggest what might be called the Rawhide Doctrine? The theme song refrain of that fondly-remembered TV horse opera presciently advised, "Don't try to understand 'em. Just rope and throw and brand 'em."

I don't imagine modern Western sensibilities would tolerate literal branding with hot irons - a capital "J" for "Jihadi" on the forehead, say - no matter how much karmic justice that would represent. But burning flesh is not the only approach that can be pursued to the problem of making sure these folks readily stand out in a crowd after their presumably inevitable release. I recommend a combination of two things that will fill the bill vis-a-vis regular Muslim civilians.

1. A dermatological laser should be used to render each detainee ENTIRELY and PERMANENTLY hairless before release.

2. Each detainee should be tatooed on the forhead with a large, red white and blue "U.S.A."

Both precedures to be done under general anaesthesia.

Posted by Dick Eagleson at October 6, 2004 01:26 PM

I never understand this nonsense about the "rights" of these prisoners. By me you acquire rights only when you subscribe to the social contract. Rights are the payment you get for agreeing to be bound by law. These folks are not part of our social contract, have explicitly rejected it, in fact, and do not consider themselves bound by our version of law. In fact, they reject our law as irrational and hateful.

Well, so be it. In that case they have no more rights than animals, and can be dealt with according to our own standards of expediency and ethics.

The idea that they need to be treated with the respect we accord our own citizens, or those of any civilized nation, is moral equivalism of the silliest and most suicidal sort. You might as well argue that you can't apply Raid to a wasp nest without putting the wasps on trial first and convicting them of stinging someone.

So what to do? I think it's reasonably simple. Some substantial fraction can be released right away. Release the others one or two per year over the next hundred years. Of course, people who want to make trouble for the government will bring up these poor folks languishing in jail for 15 or 30 years, from time to time. But this will be sound and fury signifying nothing, and will soon enough die away. In the end, if the government stands firm and there is no chance of personal glory for some lawyer who springs them all in a brilliant Clarence Darrow performance in front of a judge -- lawyers are all narcissists, you know -- then there really isn't anybody who really wants to take their part. Because they are not nice people. If anyone really cared about them they wouldn't be jihadis, now, would they? It's the occupation of someone who is unloved and sees no real future for himself.

Posted by Zond III at October 6, 2004 02:44 PM

Karl, if these aren't the people with whom we're at war (those who want to behead us because we don't share their extreme religion), who are?

Good question. It appears to me that we have at least four seperate groups in Afghanistan or Iraq at war in any real sense with the US. The remnants of the Taliban and allies in Afghanistan, the remnants of the Baathists in Iraq, certain crime families in the western part of Iraq (eg, Faluja), and Al Qaeda remnants in Iraq (supposedly under Zarqawi). I think there's a good argument to say that most of the people in Guantanamo belonged to the now defunct Afghanistan Al Qaeda militias or Taliban government (perhaps the Baathist party as well?). Ie, they belong to groups that no longer exist. So how can you claim in that situation that you're still at war with them?

A lot of these people don't come from Iraq or Afghanistan. So if they show up there (or any other place they've been banned from), then they should be reclassified as an enemy combatant and dealt with accordingly. Further, a number of these may be facing jail time or worse in the countries they come from.

But otherwise, you're left jailing someone indefinitely who hasn't committed a crime. There's always some terrorist group (which in the current jargon we would be at "war" with) that they could feasibly join, if you let them go. It's bad precedent and shouldn't be permitted in a democracy.

Posted by Karl Hallowell at October 6, 2004 06:31 PM

OK, Karl, even in a democracy, if you have someone in custody who expresses a desire upon release to decapitate one of your citizens at the first opportunity, is it a good idea to:

a) release them into society, civilized or otherwise, and

b) illegal to keep them in custody?

These are not a trick questions.

Posted by Rand Simberg at October 6, 2004 06:38 PM

I say we release them all. Get an old oil tanker that's about to be decommissioned. Load 'em aboard. Bring it to a point farthest from land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and anchor it. Surround it with mines and warning buoys (sp?). Then toss in a dozen hogs. Annouce to the world that we've released all prisoners and let the red cross/crescent inspect the prison.

Posted by ken anthony at October 7, 2004 05:42 PM

How long do you keep someone jailed without trial because they say they want to commit a crime? It's already been almost three years for a bunch of these people. When you toss in that the statements were probably gathered under questionable circumstances (eg, the prisoner may have been tortured to get the alleged statement), the whole thing smells.

Further, the possibility that some hypothetical prisoner might murder a US citizen has to be balanced against the precedent of legally recognizing confessions obtained through torture in a US-run jail. Frankly, the latter is more dangerous to US society than terrorists are.

Posted by Karl Hallowell at October 13, 2004 05:21 AM

Karl, my comments are based on the presumption that these nutballs are willingly and cheerfully telling us that they want to cut off our heads. I seriously doubt if we're coercing such admissions from anyone, but if so, that's a different situation.

Posted by Rand Simberg at October 13, 2004 05:33 AM

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