20 May 2009

Guantanamo and the NIMBY principle

Hysteria over the prospect of alleged terrorists being transferred from the Guantanamo Bay facility to American prisons has climaxed in a Senate vote this morning blocking such a transfer. The FBI has also spoken out against the idea. To some observers, these fears seem absurd, but I guess that's because we've thought that the fraidy-cats were simply afraid that it might be easier for the suspects to escape from American prisons. Now we learn that authorities fear that the alleged terrorists will radicalize fellow prisoners and form networks on the gang model that would facilitate domestic terrorism. Frankly, this seems just as unlikely to me, but the current hysteria reminds us of the absurdity of the entire "war on terror." The "war" approach is always contrasted with a "crime fighting" approach, but we end up treating "prisoners of war" like we would captive gangsters -- as information resources. If we really mean to be at war with terrorists, and the issue of their confinement after capture raises so many annoying questions, then why don't we simply kill anyone we identify as a terrorist on sight? In war the enemy is to be killed. If the primary objective in the "war on terror" isn't to kill terrorists but to extract information in order to identify and defeat a larger network, then the "war" is for all intents and purposes a criminal investigation, and should be conducted accordingly. The Bush Administration, of course, wanted to have it both ways and maintain "war on terror" as a special category the rules of which the President could make up as he goes along. If the Obama Administration intends to do things differently, it had better explain itself better to its own alleged supporters in Congress.

Here's the roll call. New Yorkers, please note that both of the state's Democratic senators voted for this ridiculous amendment, which was introduced by a Democrat (Sen. Inouye of Hawaii) as well. Were I a senator, I'd introduce an amendment demanding the summary execution of all Guantanamo detainees, just to see how many votes it'd get.

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