Michael Slawson, in his article “Gitmo: It’s Not Even Over When We Say It’s Over,” draws a predictable but flawed conclusion in his analysis of the Obama administration’s apparent decision not to close the Detention Center. He contends that holding and interrogating detainees without legal charges and in violation of legal rights is not only bad policy but a betrayal of American values. And there’s the flaw. Like the Obama administration, and the Clinton administration before them, Slawson considers the terrorist-detainees at Guantanamo Bay criminals when in fact they are prisoners of war.
Criminals are members of or visitors to a society who violate established law for their own advantage. Accepted policy is to isolate and attempt to rehabilitate and reintegrate criminals into society, to bring them within the bounds. The law defines the methods we may use in our efforts so that criminals are accorded the same rights as the society, and all are equal under the law.
But “enemy combatants,” as Slawson rightly calls them, are not criminals. They have no part in the society, because their avowed purpose is the destruction of that society. They cannot be rehabilitated (restored to a good and useful life) because they were never habilitated (“clothed” or equipped to contribute) in the culture. The unquestionable failure of rehabilitation is demonstrated by Andrew Bolt, writing in the Melbourne, Australia Herald Sun in July of 2007, “At least 30 former Guantanamo Bay detainees have been killed or recaptured after taking up arms against allied forces following their release,” and many more circuits through Gitmo’s revolving door have been documented since then. Nor can these enemies be re-integrated into our society because they never were an integral part of the society, and have no desire to integrate. Their actions aren’t designed to work within the society, but to annihilate the society, and their method is to terrify it into capitulation. This is not criminal. It is culturally, socially, nationally predatory.
Since their actions are not crimes, the legal protections Mr. Slawson would extend to the terrorist/detainees are irrelevancies. The rights against self-incrimination, the rights to counsel and habeas corpus, all are moot because there is no “crime” at issue. Their definition of success is not dominance within a society—crime—but dominance over the society—conquest.
In one point Mr. Slawson is correct. The “shabby” standards of the military commissions are inadequate to try the prisoners as criminals. They were never supposed to. The only questions our military tribunals are intended, or competent, to determine is if the detainees are in fact enemy combatants, and if in that role they have complied with the conventions that govern the oxymoron of civilized war. In adjudicating these questions their qualifications and standards are precise and, literally, unique.
Mr. Slawson’s article demonstrates the classic logical fallacy of the false premise. He labors through a critique of the Obama administration’s tactics, all the while failing to recognize that it’s actually a question of strategy. The detainees are soldiers in an enemy army, and the point is to deny the enemy of their services.