Al Qaeda’s playbook and the Senate Democrats

Below, John writes: “The mildness with which terrorist detainees have been treated stands as an imperishable monument to the greatness of the American spirit and the moderation of the Bush administration.” I agree, but can’t help wondering whether, spiritual greatness and moderation aside, it would be better policy to treat terrorist detainees less mildly.
Meanwhile, the Senate hearing on Gitmo that C-SPAN has been re-broadcasting tonight stands as a monument to the wisdom of al Qaeda, which advises its terrorists to complain, if captured, about torture and mistreatment in order, presumably, to take advantage of folks like many members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Democratic members, and several Republicans as well, can’t seem to accept the notion that detainees captured while fighting Americans during our campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban deserve anything less than the full blown due process we accord our citizens, including access to federal court. Never mind that ordinary prisoners of war captured by us on the battle field during, say, World War II, never received such “due process.” Why should we be more solicitous of unlawful combatants than we were of legitimate soldiers who abided by the rules of war?
The fig leaf for all this concern with the rights of probable terrorists is the claim that not treating them better hurts us in the war against terror. When I turned off the television in disgust to write this, some professor at NYU law school was asserting that mantra. The proposition that what happens at Gitmo impedes our ability to fight terrorism appears to be an a priori one, untested by empirical inquiry, and derived entirely from a desire to advance a civil liberties agenda and/or attack the Bush administration.
Is there evidence that anyone ever became a terrorist because we treat prisioners too harshly? Does it make any sense to suppose that someone prepared to take up arms against the U.S. will abandon that quest if only we provide prisioners with access to federal district court? We know from al Qaeda’s own training materials and the ridicule it has heaped on the U.S. that it views our obsession with legal process as the laughable equivalent of selling the rope with which to be hanged. What reason is there to believe that those predisposed to join al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations view things differently? What reason is there to believe that some civil libertarian at NYU, or a U.S. Senator from California, has a better idea of what works best in the war on terrorism than the Defense Department? If these folks want to assert the primacy of civil liberties for suspected terrorists, that’s fine. But don’t insult our intelligence by claiming that there are no trade-offs between defending those liberties and thwarting terrorists.
Perhaps the argument is not that our treatment of detainees hurts us with potential terrorists, but rather that it hurts our image with friends and potential friends. It is true that if no one ever criticized the way we treat detainees, our image would be better. But I’m aware of no evidence that our image short-fall is causing us any difficulties in fighting terrorism. Governments still cooperate with us, or not, for the usual reason — self interest. Moreover, granting prisoners access to federal court won’t mitigate our the image problems resulting from detaining prisioners at Gitmo and elsewhere. Most foreigners likely find it as absurd as al Qaeda does that we would consider providing gold-plated legal process to captured terrorists. The image problem stems from claims of torture. Those claims, and the eagerness of elements of the MSM and the American left to advance them, won’t end regardless of what we do. Al Qaeda’s playbook, and the history of the past few months, tell us so.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention the comical moment when Senator Leahy got all worked up because no one could tell him the exact number of detainees at Gitmo right now — the best anyone could do was estimate the number at 520. If Leahy thinks its so important to know whether the actual number is 517 or 522 or some other number, maybe he should go down there and count them himself. Since the facility has been open, it seems that none of its most outspoken Democratic critics has visited.


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