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Kerry’s Pamphleteer
The Times is pulling out all the stops.


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Andrew C. McCarthy

At this point it is scandalous that the “newspaper of record” pretends to be anything other than the daily Kerry campaign talking-points memo. But don’t expect too much oxygen to be wasted on today’s “talking point.”

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In Monday’s score, the New York Times somehow managed–with national juggernaut success–to spin as a debacle for President Bush a story about how Saddam Hussein actually possessed nuclear-weapon detonators and other essential WMD components (i.e., hundreds of tons of high explosives) despite years of just the type of U.N. inspections and international “monitoring” that a President Kerry promises to revive.

Buried deep within the story, the Times burbled that, notwithstanding U.N. resolutions seemingly to the contrary, Saddam had been permitted by the vaunted international community to horde the explosives because Iraq “argued that it should be allowed to keep them for use in mining and civilian construction.” Naturally, for the Camp Kerry Pamphleteer, the story in all this was that the explosives are missing, not that the tyrant the Times claims was not a threat had them in the first place, nor that this is what Kerry’s “global test” management promises for Iran, Syria, North Korea, and hot-spots yet to emerge.

Fresh from that triumph, the Times’s gambit today reprises another oldie-but-goodie: the Bush administration’s purported denial of human rights to captured terrorists (to whom it is the paper’s amiable wont to refer as “young Arabic men”). Thus, this morning’s page-one screamer reports that the administration has reversed itself and is denying the protections of the Geneva Conventions to some of the fighters captured in Iraq–which, for example, justifies permitting them to be removed from the country for interrogation purposes.

This may be the most transparent example yet (at least this week) of the Times’s trying to make something out of nothing at Bush’s expense. Members of the international network of Islamic terrorists against whom we are at war are not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 whether they are captured in Iraq or Afghanistan or Pittsburgh.

During wartime, combatants are privileged to employ military force if they are members of a national army, or of a militia that is part of such an army and that conducts itself accordingly–meaning that its members are subject to a formal chain of command, wear uniforms, carry their weapons openly, and conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war. What are those laws and customs? In the Fall 2003 issue of the National Interest, the eminent scholars David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey usefully summarized those long ago accepted “by all civilized states”:

only sovereign states have the right to make war;
civilians cannot be deliberately attacked;
combatants can be attacked either en masse or individually;
quarter is to be granted when sought;
lawful combatants, when taken prisoner or otherwise incapacitated by wounds, are to be accorded the respect and privileges due prisoners of war (POW’s); and
while all forms of force can be deployed in combat, certain weapons designed to cause unnecessary suffering are proscribed.

Terrorists flip these laws on their heads: They are not state actors; they intentionally target civilians; they torture, behead, and otherwise execute their prisoners; and, when not crashing airliners into skyscrapers, they actively seek chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons to maximize carnage. As a matter of law they are patently not entitled to Geneva protections. As a matter of common sense, it would be suicidal to accord them such protections because that would reward and legitimize their tactics.

If there is a story at all in today’s Times “story” it is that anyone ever suggested anything to the contrary in Iraq–as some administration spokesmen have occasionally done, plainly (if perhaps unwisely) going the extra mile to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. Unquestionably, Iraqi fighters captured in Iraq, such as Saddam’s former fedayeen and other loyalists, had a claim to Geneva protections during the phase of the war before the regime fell. They also have an arguable claim to those protections in connection with the insurgency since the regime fell–although I would argue that their claim fails.

That, however, is all beside the point for present purposes. The administration has not contended that those Iraqi fighters are without Geneva protections regardless of what international law technically mandates. At issue now are the thousands of non-Iraqi terrorists who have moved their barbarous ways into Iraq.

Senator Kerry assures us that, while he would wage a more “sensitive” war, he would slam terrorists just as vigorously as the president. If that is the case, surely he does not think we should treat Osama bin Laden (a Saudi/Yemeni) differently depending on whether he is captured in Baghdad or Kabul. Surely, he does not think we are limited, in the Sunni Triangle, to asking Abu Musab al Zarqawi (a Jordanian) his name, rank, and serial number.

Al Qaeda terrorists do not have any more right to stay in Iraq under benevolent captivity than they had to enter to country and begin murdering civilians and our troops–not to mention trying to foment civil war between Sunnis and Shiites. Under existing international law, they may not be tortured; and unlike their own practices, we won’t be beheading them and beaming the tape over to al-Jezeera. But, much as this may dismay the Times, they don’t get Miranda warnings either.

A war against terrorists is a war about information–the intelligence necessary to prevent future attacks against civilians and our military forces. Terrorist prisoners must be aggressively interrogated if we are to get that information, even if that furrows brows down on West 43rd Street.

Just like yesterday’s news, today’s story–if you read between the lines, rather than just what the Times decided was “fit to print”–is another reason why national security would best be served by the president’s re-election next Tuesday. War is always messy, but it has to be fought to win.

Andrew C. McCarthy, who led the 1995 terrorism prosecution against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven others, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.



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