I am going to keep this up until this STOPS! These are the words of Jumah al-Dossari currently being held at Guantanamo. I am starting to believe the only reason they are being kept there is that if they were set free, many many people would be charged with crimes against humanity: At Guantanamo, soldiers have assaulted me, placed me in solitary confinement, threatened to kill me, threatened to kill my daughter and told me I will stay in Cuba for the rest of my life. They have deprived me of sleep, forced me to listen to extremely loud music and shined intense lights in my face. They have placed me in cold rooms for hours without food, drink or the ability to go to the bathroom or wash for prayers. They have wrapped me in the Israeli flag and told me there is a holy war between the Cross and the Star of David on one hand and the Crescent on the other. They have beaten me unconscious.

Off goes another email to Nancy Pelosi.


C’mon. First, you have no idea what, if any, of his statement is true. Second, there are in fact reasons most of those detainees are there (even if you don’t like the particulars of their detention). There is no doubt that some innocent people are there. However, I don’t think anyone seriously doubts that many (indeed most) are basically monsters who have worked very hard to get into Gitmo. Third, think about the history of the Dems: do you seriously think Pelosi is really going to do anything about it anyway?? The bottom line (indeed whether you are a Dem or Republican) is that no one wants to be known as the person who released the next Mohammed Atta. She won’t help you on this one. Fourth, what would you have us do? This is a war, and while there is such a thing as the Geneva Convention, in no sense do Al Queda terrorists meet the standard for protection (in this Bush, perhaps as with a broken watch being correct twice a day, is correct: they do not meet the standard for legitimate prisoners of war). I’m not saying that we offer no protections to captured terrorists, but at the same time some modification of or alternative to the Geneva Convention is in order: al Queda and their ilk does not deserve and should not receive the consideration or implicit legitimization offered to combatants under the Geneva convention. We simply cannot endorse their style of warfare (which does not by design embrace any of the standards of conduct which make nations willing to agree in the first place to something like the Geneva Convention). We may offer them protection from basic abuse, but at the same time we cannot, must not, legitimize their tactics. They should be objects of contempt: their behavior is the essence of contemptuous by any civilized standard.
So where does that leave us? There are two possibilities. First, that this guy is a terrorist. In that case his treatment does concern me, though only some (fall into al Queda’s hands and you’ll learn what torture really means): he is in a Kafka-esque trap to be sure, but one of his own making. Second, he might be an innocent accidentally captured. That makes him a casualty of war. Tragic? Yes. But no more than the American servicement KIA’d today in Iraq, the Iraqi civilians that became collateral casualties today, the Israeli soldiers who continue to be held illegally by Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Hezbollah guerillas (who generally do meet the Geneva Convention standard) languishing in Israeli jails, the freshly butchered of the Darfur, the North Korean political prisoners used as guinea pigs for the chemical and biological weapon experiments of a dying regime attempting to somehow evade the verdict of history, Ingrid Betancourt and all the others in perma-limbo as prisoners in Columbia, etc. etc. etc.
War is hell: that isn’t just a cute saying.

I don’t agree with anything you said.
Basically I’m of the opinion that government (esp the current administration) cannot be trusted. The only thing that allows us (the people) to keep them in check is the transparency of the government’s actions. Guantanamo is anything but transparent, and because of that loophole, it is being for extra-legal incarceration. And because of that, abuse is rampant. I find that atrocious, and I’m actually surprised that you disagree so willingly. Perhaps you’re only playing devil’s advocate.
The “war” of which you speak is a fiction. It hardly merits the word or the trappings that go with it. But nonetheless, war is hell, and that’s why I fight it.

This war is not a fiction: I personally know casualties of it. People I knew now gone. You have evidently had a charmed course thus far.
As for whether the best government is the most transparent, that probably depends on the specific policy arena at hand. But there no easy standard along the lines you propose. This question has been debated (and by reasonable people on both sides) at least since the time of Machiavelli’s Prince.
As for the rest:
1. Extra-legal perhaps, but not illegal. That is the standard to which our government has always and must still must adhere. Justin, honestly, for all of your outrage, do you have any idea how we actually won any of our wars (eg WWII)?
2. You may not agree with most of what I said, but neither do you really answer it. I would be curious to know what you think about each point.

By the way, one thing that I am opposed to is trying these people within the context of their tenure at Gitmo and, worse still, with coerced testimony. The coercion isn’t really what bothers me: its that legal proceedings cannot be tainted by such things, even if they had military value. I think a very strong distinction must be drawn between the realms of civilian law and military operations. The real danger is that that line will get blurred. Better to leave them rotting in their own Kafka-esque web (ie maintain extra-legal detention) than try to creat a legal fiction by trying them. That’s the real problem with Bush’s policy: he has tried to have it both ways and that just isn’t workable. They are either within the criminal realm (and hence subject to legal guarantees and protections) or unlawful combatants within the military realm (in which case they stuck in a free for all, but one they walked into). But they really can’t be both in a society like ours.
I also want to emaphasize that I am not abandoning the Geneva Convention. But the Geneva Convention is a set of rules to which we agreed, and those rules (rather than fuzzy emotional thinking) should be adhered to: that is what will insure that the convention is meaningful. And that does not rule out all non-conventional forces from protection: as I said, while al Queda really doesn’t really meet the standard of a lawful combatant, I think Hezbollah does. (So does al Sadr’s Mahdi army.) I also have no problem with the idea of formally extending Geneva Convetion protections to al Q prisoners (but we are not obligated to do so within the context of the current document). This might protect them from abuse but it must not bring them into the fold of lawful combatants, thus legitimizing them. So it would sort of be like the formal legal protections for ordinary criminals: the state faces restrictions, but at the same time does not in any sense acknowledge the legitimacy of the illegal activities. We cannot legitimze what they are doing: do so and I promise you will be sorry you did.

I’m sorry to hear that anyone you’ve known has been killed in Iraq. From my perspective, it makes your point of view all the stranger to me. Our invasion, occupation, (and now unfolding civil war) in Iraq is no WWII. And our world is a very different one from the 1940s. Can you imagine sacrificing 400,000 US soldiers in Iraq? Or anywhere?
I would like to believe that in the past, our government and presidents have adhered to standards higher than simply “what is legal or not.” Rather seeking what is right and just. What best represents the goals of the “greatest” democracy in the world. Promoting freedom, education, health, development. Seeking not to nitpick the ambiguities of international law, but rather to represent its spirit and intent. There is more at stake than being able to say “well the Geneva conventions didn’t say we couldn’t…” Like international reputation. Safety traveling abroad. Being taken seriously. Doing good around the world.
“Better to leave them rotting in their own Kafka-esque web” Obviously I find this morally reprehensible. Better to admit our failure to humanity—or else try these people, and if found guilty, sentence in adherence of international law.
I don’t understand your distinction between the legitimacy vs. illegitimacy of an illegal act. How does trying someone for a crime legitimize that crime?

First, though I did know someone killed in Iraq, I wasn’t referring to that. Gitmo is not really about Iraq. It is about our larger global campaign against al Q. At the simplest level, Gitmo would exist whether we had gone into Iraq or not. Second, to the best of my knowledge the majority of prisoners who have passed through Gitmo are not from Iraq. I was referring to 9/11 (I knew people who died in those towers), because that was really the “Pearl Harbor” in the war that brought us Gitmo.
As far as legitimizing, that isn’t really an issue about trial but rather how, if at all, these al Q combatants should receive Geneva Convention protections (of the sort that seem to concern you). The Geneva Convention’s current logic is basically because A then B, where A=”these prisoners are lawful combatants” then B=”they deserve certain protections from their captors”. My issue in the case of extending the Geneva Convention to al Queda is A: I am unwilling to recognize them as lawful combatants. If you can find another A (such as “all humans deserve certain protections, regardless of what kind of scumbag they might be”) then I can accept that. But A as it currently stands would legitimize them.
The issue of trying them is a bit different. I have been willing to accept Bush’s Gitmo logic b/c, contrary to the criticisms of it, his position about the legality of Gitmo detentions actually is probably correct (b/c al Q falls outside the Geneva Convention). So effectively Bush is, by that argument, able to sweep aside a whole series of objections rooted in our notions of laws of war. The problem is that by trying them he brings in a whole new set of complications: once you say you are going to try someone you are bringing them out of a legal netherworld and into the realm of civilian law. Then, all of a sudden, in my mind at least, these people go from being in a Kafkaesque bind (but one of their own making), a legal netherworld so to speak, to the criminal world, for which things like coerced confessions and barring of access to lawyers are simply impermissible. One of the drawbacks of Bush’s theory of Gitmo is that it implicitly makes it impossible to try them. He wants it both ways: you can be in a military netherworld where you have no legal protections or recourse AND you can be tried. Put a bit differently, under his original theory of the Gitmo prisoners the military could in theory just execute them. But they could not try and execute them. Its a subtle distinction but an important one in my opinion because it is a distinction on which the whole logic of Bush’s position rests.
As far as our previous wars go, Iraq can in fact be viewed through the lens of “good wars” (what a hilarious little emotional device) like WWII. What you offer (400,000) is a difference of degrees rather than direction. Following the failure of Wilson’s initiatives at Versaille, the US fought a war between 1941 and 45 that had, at its center, notions of transformative violence (a notion, that, by the way precedes us and has been discussed at least since the times of the Roman Republic). And we prosecuted that war with horrific violence in the pursuit of total victory. So too Iraq.
Justin, have ever really read about the, for instance, US strategic bombing campaigns from the receiving point of view? After WWII a few people, likely motivated by your outlook, wrote a series of reports suggesting that these air campaigns had failed to affect German or Japanese war production. This conclusion has been attacked on the econometric front, but many historians also point out that it implicitly adopts an assumed objective for the campaigns (ie destruction of enemy capacity to wage war/make weapons) that is incorrect: civilian populations were the real target, and the purpose of the campaigns was to inflict so much harm on them that their will to resist was utterly and completely broken (a goal, that, might I add, I suspect you would have wholly supported if you had been a young Marine looking back on battles like Iwo Jima and looking forward to participating in the invasion of Japan). We also killed prisoners, deprived people of their civil rights, effectively suspended habeas corpus, etc. to win our wars. This is how we wage war Justin. The ahistorical perspective is not mine but yours. The response I always get to this is that world has changed, to which I reply: how so?

I don’t consider the fight against terrorism in general or al-Qaeda specifically to be a war, except in the goofy “war on drugs” sense. As an aside: god I wish that fight attended more (and more vocally) to the roots of terrorism (e.g. poverty) and not the outcomes. I do consider our invasion of Iraq to be a war (in the least productive sense), and it appears, though who knows what the president and his coterie are really thinking, that Iraq and al-Qaeda are (or at least have become) essentially the same thing. Regardless, it appears that by invading Iraq, we damaged our ability (focus) to fight terrorists and prolonged the incarceration and mistreatment of those prisoners held at Guantanamo.
It is because of both the allegations of abuse and the legal complications and drawbacks you describe that I believe Guantanamo should be shut down. And furthermore, a principle of “all humans deserve certain protections, regardless of what kind of scumbag they might be” should be established. This is not something I expect to happen. This is something I want to happen. Hence the links and emails.
Bad things happening in the past (“transformative violence”) is not justification in my mind for continuing them in the present. The irony of your last paragraph is I wonder how much the average solider is looking forward to another tour of duty in Iraq. That I would say, is how the world has changed—or less grandly, that is how this war is different from WWII, and more like Vietnam.

Its funny you should mention the tours of duty. Two of my neighbors are Iraq vets looking forward to the possibility of being re-sent. Both are very nice guys. One of them was awarded the Bronze Star (!) for his last visit there. Both of the express the same basic sentiment. As the guy who won the Bronze Star put it to me a couple of weeks ago (hence allow me certain latitude by paraphrasing to a degree):
“what will kill me is if I return to another episode of “Dallas SWAT”. The problem isn’t that we fight too rough, its that we don’t do it at all. We act like really violent cops, but a pretty hesitant army. We need to be unleashed. We could sweep through places like the Sunni Triangle and, with sufficiently flexible rules of engagement, really make the insurgents suffer. We need to annihilate al Sadr’s Mahdi army, and if they hide in sacred mosques we’ll turn them into sacred rubble. And if ten thousand men in, say, Najaf try to react to that by re-enacting Black Hawk down, we should send in the fire power to cut them down like grass. And then hunt down and flatten their homes. And it any member of their families resist, make a terrible example of them on the spot. If we did that, a shit load of Iraqis, including ordinary, innocent ones will die, and that is a tragedy. But we will be able to stabilize the situation. We’ll be sending this message, like Caesar but also our dads in WWII: we have a vision for the future of your society. You can get with it and win by doing so, but if you try to defy us we will destroy everything sacred to you. The thing is, if you send that message credibly enough, you won’t have to kill that many people because most get the message. Contrary to what they imply on Fox, Iraqis aren’t nuts. They are rational, just like us. And when you send a message they receive it. That’s how Saddam was able to hold the country with such a small faction. And that’s what we should do: take a page from Saddam’s playbook. We have tried to make the difference between ourselves and Saddam about means, when instead the really enduring one should be about ends. This is exactly what we did with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Does anyone argue with that now?
Instead, we are basically trying to fight a war like cops, maybe to reduce the carnage on TV and prevent people in places like San Francisco from really losing it (-his words, not mine-). In our stupid attempts to limit US and Iraqi casualties, the funny thing is we’ve made victory a pretty low priority. So this war goes on and on and eventually, I think its already happened, we’ll reach the point more Iraqis died this *civilized* way than if we’d just taken the Roman route our fathers would have. Who cares if more Iraqis die over time, I guess, as long as we feel good about ourselves, right?”
The language of the war on terror is indeed silly, and the metaphor to war on drugs is somewhat apt (in the sense that neither war can end with decisive victory in the Greco-Roman sense). But this is a matter of bad semantics on Bush’s (and others, including Pelosi’s) part. The war on al Queda is real. And we will win, for a number of reasons, including the fact that, when push comes to shove, I suspect that deep down the majority of our countrymen agree with me and not you: we will do whatever if takes to see these people off. That is, Justin, how we always have and always will fight our wars, whatever pleasant fictions we attempt to create at the time or as we write the history. The human losses at Gitmo are tiny compared to those associated with the vain attempt of al Q to hijack the destiny of the Islamic world, and lead it into an even deeper hole than it is already in in terms of things like economic welfare.
Transformative violence is natural and organic. The world is about transformative violence (with apologies for stealing ideas from Marcus Aurelius). The question is whether the end you pursue will advance the cause of man. The rest will, and should, be forgotten: taken against the amortized benefits over generations, the initial pain of the transition to the modern world is really not worth pause. That is how and why we have fought, and I have never heard a convincing argument otherwise. Tacitus once said of the Roman war on Carthage (and, by extension, of people like me) “you have made a desert, and then called it peace”. Actually, after a horrifically violent conquest, Carthage thrived as never before in the Roman world, immeasurably raising the welfare of her people and making its contribution to the birth of the modern in a way that pre-conquest Carthage never would have. So too with Iraq, if we could find some leadership with the moral courage to do what must be done, and not just for our sake but theirs.

By the by, another interesting and reasonable question is whether Iraq was ever a good candidate in the first place for transformative violence in the sense I’ve suggested. Maybe not (there are pretty strong arguments both ways). But I do know this: there is nothing exceptional about Iraq in terms of the degree of difficulty associated with the fighting. If we had cut and run in earlier wars as easily as some wish to today, we never would have won any of them. The war in Iraq is not a uniquely tough war. There was a huge camp in the North during the Civil War that wanted to cut and run (if you think you’ve seen military savagery in your life, read a really good study of, for instance, the Gettysburg campaign). The group representing my viewpoint prevailed in that debate and, as a result, our nation is thankfully no longer half slave and half free. But, as you think about the right course for our society in Iraq today, never kid yourself about the cost of past victories.
So then I would recommend doing what is necessary (facing “the arithmetic”, as Lincoln once put it) to win. We are in Iraq. The debate about whether it was a good idea or not is mute. The only question remaining before us is can we win? And the answer is yes: if we are prepared to face what is necessary for victory, our army will simply crush any resistance in Iraq. And my guess is that in the process far fewer Iraqis will end up dying than under the alternative. We have lost our national nerve at least once before (in Vietnam*), and I don’t think the course we followed then as a result was the best one from the standpoint of our welfare, that of the Vietnamese and their neighbors (ask a Cambodian sometime how much violence we *should* have used to stop the Khmer Rouge) or the world. I hope we don’t repeat that mistake.
*I was also opposed to us going into Somalia, but even more so to pulling out after the Black Hawk down incident. But that was a smaller scale incursion than either Vietnam or Iraq.

Off topic but I thought the following might interest you:

I think you misunderstand my stance as pacifism.
I’ve merely said in so many ways that I sincerely doubt that anything about Guantanamo is advancing the fight against extremists. What I do believe is that in our highly connected, information-saturated world, it makes us look really bad, really quickly. It fuels the fire. This is another way in which the world is different (the speed at which information travels). Guantanamo’s much reported existence plus its lack of transparency is a tinderbox, both domestically and internationally. There is always a balancing act, between justifiable ‘special circumstances’ and not. IMHO, the scale has very much tipped towards not.
There is some irony juxtaposing “vain attempt of al Q to hijack the destiny of the Islamic world” against our failures in Iraq, aka our vain attempt to hijack the destiny of the Islamic world.
What does work is what always has: intelligence, perseverance, defense, threats, and a calculated, measured offense. Oh yeah. And people talking to people. It seems apparent to me that Bush and co. were treasonously weak on defense, valued ideology over intelligence, hate diplomacy, and from what your friend implies, completely inept at offense.
Obviously Nancy Pelosi is not going to give you what you want. But really, who is? George Bush’s dream of 20,000 more soldiers in Iraq will probably amount to little, and it seems that if your friend was in charge, he’d just mow everyone down. The single largest problem in Iraq is that there’s no clear definition of victory. No matter who you kill, you’re inadvertently helping one group and motivating recruitment for another.
Meanwhile Osama remains at large, and I can’t bring bottled water with me on an airplane.

You and I really don’t know the intelligence value of the Gitmo captives as a whole. So its really hard to talk with any certainty about things like balance and scales. I think that this has obviously generated a lot more tension where you live than in, say, middle America. And I don’t care what Europe thinks: they made the value of their strategic partnership crystal clear to me in Bosnia. If anything what was true of them then is even more so now. Besides, you make a Clintonian mistake if you try to base your foreign policy on opinion polls.
I don’t think that there’s anything strange about what I said about al Qs role in the world and our own. We represent the future, and they represent the past. Full stop. Maybe someday our own suite of priorities, institutions, etc. will be surpassed by those of another bloc of societies. But for now we are the modern. Its kind of like the role of the Romans in the world. Obnoxious? Maybe. I’ll grant you even probably. Progress? Important? Inevitable? By any number of yardsticks, yes. Very frankly you could persuasively apply the same moral relativism that you invoke above to, for instance, America and Nazi Germany on Dec 6, 1941. Its no more persuasive now than then.
My friend wouldn’t mow everyone down; only as many as he had to. Read carefully what he said. He isn’t bloodthirsty and does not enjoy killing; he’s simply pragmatic.
Finally, and hilariously, “calculated, measured offense”? Back when our army still won wars it only had one gear: attack. This has been true of all the great military traditions of history. Read, for instance, stuff by Victor Davis Hanson.
I agree with you that 20,000 troops will make no difference. Our problem is tactics, not numbers. Give our commanders half the troops they currently have and no constraints and we’ll win in 6-12 months (in the sense of reducing the mayhem 99% and creating an appropriate framework for implementing our own vision). So while you and I agree that the 20,000 is a silly gesture, I think its for very different reasons.

“You and I really don’t know the intelligence value of the Gitmo captives”
That’s exactly my point. In a democracy I have a right and a responsibility to challenge how my government directs itself. And Guantanamo is explicitly set up to prevent any reasonable form of oversight, under the auspices that the war on terror is like the war in Iraq—a premise I strongly disagree with. In other words we will never know the intelligence value (or lack thereof) of the captives held there. That is the sole motivation for my drawing attention to their plight via my small neatlink and my email to Nancy Pelosi. A minuscule act that I hope in time will eventually have a collective effect.
In the very least, it’s a data point that states what I believed and when.

But Justin, that position is ridiculous: any modern state must have some scope for maintaining secrets. You aren’t necessarily (as a matter of principal) entitled to access to all information. What ever gave you the idea that that was true of our society or any ever? By your logic we should have had an open national debate about whether to launch atomic raids against Japan, which would have been nuts. I disagree, therefore, with both the explicit contention that you are entitled to know and the implicit one that your knowing would improve things. If anything, this discussion has served only to reinforce my gut instinct that wars should not be conducted in the fashion of other exercises of policy in our society. Justin, with all due respect (and my private disgust at Bush’s handling of the Iraq war notwithstanding), a lot of the implicit preferences and values revealed in your statements, however noble in other spheres of public policy, could be compiled into a book along the lines of “How to Lose a War in a Few Easy Steps”. In other words, a lot of what you have had to say about the war (I refer here not to your opposition to waging it in the first place but rather your feelings about how (or how not ) to wage it ) is a actually a pretty strong argument for the exact opposite of your core assertion.


Email (optional)

Blog (optional)