Monday, July 20, 2009

Now You Know

Why shouldn't we torture the enemy combatants at Guantanamo and Bagram? Why should we follow the outdated - was it Cheney or Bush who called them "quaint"? - rules of the Geneva Convention? We're fighting for our country and our lives, they said - we have to use every tool available.

Now you know why we shouldn't have done that. Now, for the first time since Vietnam, I think (I don't recall any American captures during either the Gulf War or Iraq), an American soldier is a POW. The Taliban is holding Bowe Bergdahl, a 23 year old PFC from Idaho; and he says on their propaganda video that he's "scared I won't be able to go home."

He should be scared. We've spent the last 8 years treating Muslim "enemy combatants" like some lower form of life, not deserving respect as human beings. Ask yourself: if you were the Taliban, what incentive would you have to treat Pvt. Bergdahl any better?

I shouldn't have to explain this, but evidently we've forgotten: the Geneva Conventions were formulated in 1949, after World War II, to standardize the treatment of prisoners of war and civilians in time of war. If you read the history section in Wikipedia, the first 10 articles in the first treaty actually go back to 1864, and Clara Barton, who founded the American Red Cross. 194 nations have signed these treaties, including the United States, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

The whole basis of the Geneva Conventions is the principle that "there, but for the grace of God, go I." You treat the enemy's prisoners humanely in the hope (vain during World War II) that any of your people taken prisoner will also be treated humanely. If you're trying to get information from them, you treat them humanely because you get better and more reliable information that way, but that's another post.

The problem with the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan right now is that - surprise! - the Taliban is not a "nation," and therefore not a signatory. At least, the Taliban isn't a nation yet. Since they haven't signed any treaties, the only leverage we might have had, to persuade them to treat our prisoners with dignity and humanity, would have been our humane treatment of captured Muslim "enemy combatants" - but we couldn't be bothered to do that, we had important things to do. Besides, they can't capture one of our men! We sacrificed the moral high ground to gain a victory - and now we need the moral high ground. But we can't get it back just like that. Barack Obama is making some strides, in closing Gitmo and trying to place the prisoners, but it'll take us a looong time to regain that moral high ground.

The trouble with the whole "war on terror" - and thank God we've quit using that phrase! - is that it isn't a war. It's a police action which is being mismanaged as a war. Al Qaeda and the Taliban are criminal organizations, just like the Mafia, except that their stated primary goal is religious, not commercial. (Although I notice they're perfectly happy to get rich off the opium trade.) We should have been pursuing the entire operation as an international police investigation from the beginning; but it's so much more fun to have a war.

1 comment:

  1. It's interesting to try to look at Afghanistan and Pakistan (and Iran and Iraq and so on) as being unique instances of regional identity.

    I remember how pained I was to see the Taliban destroy all those ancient priceless shrines and statures to Buddha when they had control of their nation.

    You'd like to take those naughty children and shake some sense into them. But, unfortunately, it's their country, and it's their religion, and it's their history. As much as we sympathize with the women, and mourn the degradation of Western ideals (such as parliamentary democracy, universal suffrage and public education, etc.), we really don't have the right to unilaterally and preemptively push other nations around. We just don't. We only do it for short term gain, and whenever we can bully them (we'd do the same to China, I suspect, if we thought we could get away with it).

    We've got to bide our time. We're no longer a truly "rich" country with trillions of dollars to burn conducting "limited" (but very expensive) wars. Maybe capitalism will "conquer" dictatorships and socialism just through example and the spread of information. Maybe the internet will break Chinese Communism down from inside out. Maybe not.

    But this notion that we have a moral justification and duty to kill people in other countries who we don't agree with is madness. Borders and sovereignty count, even if they work against you.

    The Taliban is a home-grown phenomenon. The real culprit was Osama bin-Laden with his millions and his overweening pride. He's just another version of Che Guevara in a different guise. The Afghan tribesmen have been warring with themselves for several generations--it's warfare they understand.

    They've been growing opium there for a long time. They won't stop, in fact we aren't even going to try to stop them (really). The money will be used in ways which we can't control. It's a bitch.

    We need to get out of Afghanistan and Pakistan--every minute we're there we make more enemies, kill more civilians, and ruin our credibility. If we don't want Pakistan to have the bomb, we should go in with a high tech army and dismantle and remove the shit. That wouldn't be difficult at all. If we stand by and wring our hands, then eventually they WILL use nuclear weapons. But fighting to "win the hearts and minds"--?--a complete waste of time.