Thursday, November 19, 2009

The War on Terror

Sorry not to be around this week - I have been ill and am still coming out of it.

Anyway credit where credit is do, Jonah Goldberg's latest article is not totally unredeemable.
Ultimately, the disagreement is one of first principles. If we are at war, then the rules of war apply. The fact that this is a war unlike others we've fought should not mean that it isn't a war at all.

Don't tell that to Obama. He's made it clear that he doesn't see the threat as an unconventional war but as a conventional law-enforcement problem. The attorney general insists that 9/11 is a matter for civilian courts.
OK he kind of kills it in the second paragraph, but the first paragraph is essentially accurate. Is the War on Terror a War or isn't it?

Or, to be more precise, are people captured in the war on terror captured on the battlefield or aren't they? See if they are captured on the battlefield than we can hold them in one way and if they are captured as civilians we have to treat them another way. This underlines the essential problem in the phrase "War on Terror" because the battlefield is, well, pretty much everywhere. Which implies that the Government can pick up anybody, anywhere, hold them for as long as they want and then dump them, with no recourse.

You might think I'm exaggerating but this has already happened several times. The Uighars held at Guantanemo for example. Others that we have turned over to countries who have somewhat less stringent rules on torture.

So Goldberg is right, this is about first principles. He wants the Government to be able to arrest anybody they want and hold them for as long as they like, so long as we are in a "War on Terror." Obama somewhat agrees with that (as Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, his policy on this seems to guarantee that terrorists will be found guilty, and a venue in which they can be found guilty will be selected for them. Greenwald has also pointed out how this makes it difficult to defend trying some of them in New York.).

I am not insensitive to the difficulties of fighting this particular war, but I don't think we should abandon our principles to do it.

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