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Location: Virginia, United States

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Senate Armed Services Committee: Military Justice and Detention Policy in the War on Terror – July 14th


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Today’s hearing gave me my first opportunity to see Senators Ted Kennedy, John McCain, and my own senator from VA - John Warner. While Senator Warner was in and out of the meeting and didn’t get too involved, Senators Kennedy and McCain took a more active role. Noticeably absent from the hearing was New York’s Senator Hillary Clinton. This was a shame, but probably for the best. I used to play third base in high school and the Senator would have been well within range. Don’t get me wrong; I have great respect for the Senator’s office. I just think she belongs to a special class of people who deserve to have fruit thrown at them.

Several themes emerged in today’s event. There was unanimous agreement that Gitmo is a valuable tool in the war on terror. It was also pointed out that the base is in a prime location. However, the senators were alarmed by the fact that no terrorists from Gitmo have been prosecuted yet. A large portion of the hearing was spent debating whether or not Congressional action would speed things along. While several of the senators believed such action would be beneficial, the witnesses from the military disagreed.

Personally, I was most intrigued by a different debate. Senator McCain was extremely concerned with the morality of certain interrogation techniques. He believes, for example, that the use of dogs during interrogation is unethical and not in accord with the Geneva Convention. Senator Levin also questioned the use of certain tactics. Interestingly, the military panel agreed that several methods currently practiced at Guantanamo are in violation of the Convention. However, the officers were quick to point out that neither the Taliban nor Al-Qaeda falls under the parameters of Geneva. Al-Qaeda troops don’t wear a uniform, nor do they themselves follow the guidelines of the Convention; they don’t conduct war according to the accepted standards. Though the Taliban was affiliated with the former Afghan government, because they too constantly violate rule of war, they are not subject to Geneva protections.

I was glad to hear the military make this statement so boldly. Their remarks illustrated a very important distinction between a soldier and a terrorist. Soldiers shoot enemy soldiers, but terrorists target civilians. Hence, we shouldn’t be expected to give terrorists the same treatment we offer to enemy soldiers. Please don’t think I’m advocating torture or anything like it. Terrorists are still human; they have rights and they deserve humane treatment. However, I don’t think we need to handle them as gently as we do traditional combatants.

Senator’s McCain and Levin still objected to the use of “un-Geneva-like” methods. Both senators felt it would unfair to our own troops to use such harsh interrogation techniques. They believe our enemies will see the way we treat the terrorists, and they will subject our troops to the same treatment. I do not believe this is a valid argument. We need to remember that we’re fighting a war against terrorists. They have already brutally abused and killed POWs, as well as civilian hostages, and they clearly have no regard for human rights or rules of war. This fact will not change, even if US policy does. Negotiating with terrorists has proven fruitless. I believe we need to stand firm and refuse unnecessary concessions. Terrorists deserve humane treatment, but their rights as prisoners do not equal those of traditional enemy soldiers.

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