These issues are not easy.
Terrorists break the fundamental rules of war and peace; they violate the Geneva conventions in their acts of terror. To be considered an enemy combatant you need to follow these rules, otherwise the rules of war, don't apply to you.
Here’s a short list of things that are against the laws of war:
- Not using car-bombs
- Not booby trapping your dead or injured
- Don’t play dead or wounded to lure enemies into traps
- You can’t wave the flag of surrender to lure people into traps
- You must wear uniforms.
- You must not wear false uniforms or dress like a civilian
- Not using Churches (Temples/Mosques) as Operation Centers
- Not using Hospitals as fortresses
- Not using schools as weapons depots.
- You don’t kill POW’s.
- Don’t cut off the heads of innocents or prisoners.
- Don’t intentionally use human shields.
- Don’t try to maximize collateral damage by placing tools of war next to population centers.
- Don’t hijack civilian aircraft and crash them into civilian targets.
- Not strapping bombs on your chest and blow up civilian busses.
- Bombing or shooting your own civilians, and trying to frame the enemy
- You don’t use Gas/Chemical weapons (as Saddam did in the past) Intentionally targeting medical or humanitarian aide workers
- And so on, and so on.
Are you getting the picture yet? If not, you’re close minded and not paying attention.
The biggest bastard in a fight makes the rules. When someone pulls a knife in a fist fight, you no longer keep boxing by Queensbury rules, you grab a chair and break it over his head! That’s just self preservation and common sense. When the enemy changes the rules, we need to adapt.
So the first thing to remember whenever we are discussing the Geneva Conventions is that both sides must agree to the rules. When one stops, then the rules stop being rules for both sides. War is hell. That's why it should be avoided: civilization ceases.
When the Germans starts bombing civilian targets in London in WWII, they set the rules for us to do the same back. When the Japanese started torturing and killing innocents, they took the gloves off us as well; and we targeted their population centers. Morally and ethically, when the enemy breaks every rule of war (or Geneva conventions) in attacking us, they do free us to do the same. That we choose not to go to their level is a reflection on us. But that doesn’t mean we won’t be forced to do dirtier things that we feel comfortable with.
Terrorism does things likes crosses international borders, and intermixes government, military, paramilitary, civilian in ways that we’ve never dealt with before. We must change the rules to survive and adapt; because the enemy has already changed the rules. Getting mad at the U.S. for loosening the rules, when the other side has never come close to following them is the ultimate in hypocrisy and stupidity.
The enemy says that they can’t win in a fair fight, so they are justified in doing anything to us they want. What they ignore is that their actions mean may choose to respond in kind. Rather than calling the enemies of America on their actions, many choose to hold us to a far higher standard. We will not sink to their level first, and we will not sink as far -- but if you keep fighting “dirty”, we’ll keep loosening our rules as well. We will not lose, just because some people really despise us and want us to.
Lead by example
The hypocrites attacking us usually have far darker histories than anything we’re doing in this war, and they often went there quicker or first.
So while there are some minor points about what we’re doing, they had better be real sensitive to their own pasts (France, Germany, Russia, the entire middle east), and how they are saying things. Ultimately, we’ll use whatever means necessary to preserve American lives and as many lives as possible. Those that want to call us names while completely overlooking what the other side is doing can go fuck themselves. We shouldn’t be entertaining their brand of stupidity, and in past wars they’d be arrested for treason or sedition; that we’re not in this one shows how civilized we’re being in spite of the actions of the enemy.
That doesn’t mean that we should, or that we should immediately resort down to the lowest level. It just means that ethically, we do have an excuse and in fact an obligation to adapt. Before you take the gloves off on us, you should consider the consequences. And we need to keep reassessing the situation, and see if we can go back to the fun-loving and freedom loving tolerant country we are normally.
What we’ve done with Guantanamo is walk a line. We’ve said that enemy combatants that aren’t acting according to the rules of war, and caught in a terrorist war, doing terrorist things, can be held for the duration of the war. This isn’t very different from prison camps in any other war. The difference is this war is open-ended, since the enemies keep attacking us and crosses borders, and so on. But we didn’t make those rules, they did. They can stop at any time.
We have to make our own rules as to what is right for us, and those on the outside should be careful about what they say, unless they can walk-the-walk, and none have.
Unlike Lincoln, who was ruled violating the Constitution, and who basically told the Supreme Court to get their army to stop him, we’re being far more moderate this time, with as serious a cause. Unline FDR who rounded up races of people, we’re selecting very few people for very specific things. So we’re being a lot better than our past. Of course prior bad acts can’t justify bad acts in the present or future. But we should honestly reflect on what is being done; in the context of the world and history.
There are some valid issues. My biggest question is that normally prison camps only exist for durations of wars, so how long does a war on terror last? Our acts are mild compared to the acts of every one of those criticizing us. Others are free to set different rules for their country. I think as a nation we should communicate our actions, we should not be embarrassed by Guantanamo, or pretend that there is no excuse or precedent; there are. But we still being willing to discuss what is appropriate and build a policy on what we will and will not do. There are limits; rule of law need to apply, but these change with severity of threat and adapt with the times.