Freitag, Juni 13, 2008

Gitmo and the Supremes...and Unlawful Combatants

Without going into great and pedantic detail, the decision of the Supreme Court regarding the detainees at Guantanamo Bay will have several unintended and, fundamentally, several very undesirable results.

First and foremost, the decision is flawed, as the dissenting opinions make clear.

The Geneva Conventions are clear on this matter: unlawful combatants, those who deliberately hide amongst civilians with the intent of making it impossible for military and police to combat them, do not enjoy any of the rights of the Geneva Conventions. Zilch, nada. There is an admonition to nonetheless treat such folks fairly as if they were combatants, but unlawful combatants may not use the Geneva Conventions to hide behind.

Under such circumstances, any signatory to the convention may, if deemed necessary by that signatory, summarily execute such unlawful combatants. All that is required is that a legal instance be convened to make that decision, and the legal instance may take whatever form the signatory may choose (commissariat, tribunal, field court, whatever).

What the Supremes have done here is to extend unlawful combatants the same fundamental rights as US citizens (habeas corpus), with the right to have their cases enter the US legal system.

What does this mean? Well, besides giving all sorts of left-wingers enormous hard-ons (and really, this decision does exactly that), it means that there will no longer be any unlawful combatant detainees within a legal framework such as Guantanamo Bay was: in the future, unlawful combatants, when captured, will be interrogated and then, in all likelihood, summarily executed. Or they may well be summarily executed on the battlefield.

As they should be.

This is where the Supreme Court has made its mistake: by giving unlawful combatants rights that they do not deserve.

Does this sound harsh?

Of course it is harsh. But think about it: there is a reason why unlawful combatants do not have the rights granted to lawful combatants. It is because unlawful combatants break the rules of warfare. If the rules of warfare can be broken with impunity, then what is the use of the Geneva Conventions?

The use of the Geneva Conventions is that warfare has become so destructive - the mass armies of the 18th century were destructive enough to push for these conventions - that war was tending to mass slaughter and bordered on genocide. We're not talking about soldiers shooting a couple of civilians, but rather the ways armies behaved during the Thirty Year War and the Hundred Year War: killing all and any in their way, of looting, pillaging and raping their way through the countryside, all in order to support themselves in the field and to devastate the enemy's ability to wage war.

This is so destructive that parts of central Europe never really recovered from those days. Brandenburg's population was halved, estimates places the loss of life during that period in the German states at 30%, and the mercenary armies were infamous for their lawlessness and systematic use of real torture (Schwedentrunk). The city of Magdeburg had 25000 people in 1618, but a grand total of 2464 in 1644, a decline of over 90%.

War had become so destructive that the laws of warfare became a necessity, and this is what led to the Geneva Conventions (not immediately, of course, but it was the driving force).

The reason for treating anyone who breaks the Geneva Conventions with such draconian measures is that the Geneva Conventions exist to protect civilians, to protect those who are not involved in fighting, and to ensure that man's mortal sin, of his ability to so ruthlessly and mercilessly pursue his fellow men and to aim at their destruction, be controlled and limited.

Because wars have been with us always and no amount of "ain't gonna study war no more" is going to change that.

Wars are caused by population pressures, by religions, by those wanting power and are willing to take it. Population pressure wars are about resources; religious wars about control and salvation; power wars are the political wars. This is not going to change. Wars will, on one form or another, be a part of the human experience as long as populations grow, as long as people believe fervently in anything, and as long as disenfranchised believe that political power grows out of the barrel of the gun.

Given human nature, it is best to govern how wars are fought.

Sherman's March destroyed the heart of the South, and it took decades to recover from. A modern Sherman's March, even without using nuclear weapons or even air power, could and would gut any industrialized country, reducing it to a state of abject poverty. Warfare like the Thirty Year's War in a modern society would so devastate a countryside that we would call it a deserted land. It's not a meaningful thing to do: that is why we have the Geneva Conventions, to stop it.

And yet...the Supremes say otherwise.

Unlawful combatants should be the ultimate pariahs amongst the peoples, should be publicly executed as deviants and sinners against their fellows, because they bring indeed the apocalypse: give them the ability to fight the way they want to, and it's not the military who suffers, it is the poor bystander, the helpless and those who cannot or will not defend themselves.

Guerrilla wars and asymmetric war fighting have become "popular" with those whose grievances are too trivial and whose support is too small to otherwise gain power. It has been glorified by the left, is aided and abetted by countries wanting to interfere in secret with their neighbors, and is the only way for many to even contemplate fighting, given the professionalism of a right and proper military.

What the Supreme Court and those who support the idea of treating unlawful combatants as anything but the cowards and fools that they are ignore is exactly this: their decision doesn't support the rule of law and the sanctity of the legal system, but rather undermines the fundamental way that wars are fought.

There are two ways out of this. One way, the better way, is to change the laws and the Geneva Convention so that there are clear rules for dealing with unlawful combatants, one that takes into account their special meaning and has clear and proper penalties (you don't have to execute them, but one can deny them rights as the ultimate pariahs amongst the people). This is the right and proper path, but one that will take, literally, decades to work out.

The other way is for unlawful combatants to simply disappear. This is what will happen. They will be questioned, they will be abused, they will be executed forthwith. We will lose the ability to aggressively interrogate - not torture, despite what the bleed-hearts say, as torture is something completely different - by losing the willingness to treat unlawful combatants as being worth taking alive.

The Supreme Court decision is fundamentally flawed. It is going to make things worse, rather than better, and it is going to result in more deaths and more violations of rights, rather than fewer.

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