Last week, I did a little blogpost about Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who has been held hostage by Hamas for four years now. Ehud Barak, the defense minister of Israel, had made a pointed comment to Robert Gates, the U.S. defense chief: “A million and a half people are living in Gaza, but only one of them is really in need of humanitarian aid.” He meant Shalit, of course. The soldier is assumed alive, but has not been seen by the civilized world.
In that post, I said, “Hamas does not permit the Red Cross to see Shalit, of course. Neither does the Cuban dictatorship or Chinese dictatorship permit the Red Cross to see prisoners. May I remind you that the Red Cross visited inmates in Nazi concentration camps? One was Carl von Ossietzky, the pacifist journalist who won the Nobel Peace Prize for 1935. And may I remind you that Red Cross representatives were regular companions of Nelson Mandela, imprisoned on Robben Island?”
I concluded, “If Gilad Shalit were other than Israeli, there’d be mass demonstrations in his behalf all over Europe, and on American streets, too. But . . .”
But he is. Is Israeli. And that makes a great deal of difference in the world.
After I wrote that post, I got a stream of e-mails from people on the left, attacking me in the most venomous and obscene terms. I’ll translate what they wrote into ordinary, temperate English: “The United States refused to let the Red Cross see terror detainees. Aren’t you a hypocrite? Isn’t the United States as bad as Hamas, the Cuban dictatorship, the Chinese dictatorship, and so on?”
No. The United States has captured about 100,000 terror suspects, probably more. It has had fewer than a hundred terrorists in the “CIA program” — in CIA detention, at “black sites.” These were “high-value detainees,” being interrogated for what they knew. Why? Because the terrorists had promised to attack Americans again and again, just as they had on 9/11. Those attacks were not a one-time deal, they said; they were no anomaly. The jihad was going to hit us again and again, as often as it could.
Remember when Americans were screaming at the Bush administration to “connect the dots”? And saying that the administration had failed to connect these dots? Well, that’s what the United States was trying to do in those interrogations: connect the dots. (And we did: The information we obtained prevented and foiled attacks.)
We certainly did not allow the Red Cross in — not while those terrorists were being interrogated, not at black sites. The public didn’t know about those sites. We (the U.S.) did not want the terrorists to reveal what we had learned, and what we were doing. We didn’t want them to communicate to the outside — we had (further) mass murder to prevent. We did not want the terrorists to use the Red Cross, or anyone else, as a megaphone — which, of course, is exactly what they did later.
When those detainees were transferred from the “CIA program” to more regular facilities, the Red Cross had access to them. And those detainees include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The Red Cross has the run of Guantanamo Bay, long has.
Michael Mukasey was attorney general from November 2007 to January 2009. He remembers visiting Guantanamo Bay in February 2008. He looked at many of the high-value detainees on video monitors. But he did not see Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; Mohammed wasn’t in his cell. He was off having a Red Cross visit.
Mukasey did see the exercise room, adjacent to Mohammed’s cell. And he noticed something interesting: Mohammed had the same elliptical machine that he, the attorney general, had back home in his Washington apartment building. Only there was this difference: Mukasey had to share his, with other residents; there was a mad scramble in the morning to get to it. Mohammed had his machine all to himself.
Bear in mind that he was the “mastermind” of the 9/11 attacks, which killed almost 3,000 people. That he was the beheader of Daniel Pearl. And so on. I wonder how much more tenderly America’s critics expect us to treat such people. “Abdominal massages,” of the type Al Gore apparently requests?
This is to say nothing of the fact that these terror detainees are not uniformed soldiers, have refused to obey the laws and customs of war, and are not entitled to Geneva Convention protection. The United States decided to treat these detainees as though they were ordinary POWs. The fact remains, however, that they are not. When you blow up the World Trade Center, when you slit stewardesses’ throats with boxcutters, you are outside the pale.
Go back to that blogpost I did, and the anger that it elicited on the left. I was talking about Gilad Shalit, a corporal in uniform. And prisoners of conscience such as those held in Cuba and China: democrats, peace campaigners, intellectuals, artists, religious people, dissenters, and so on. People such as Oscar Biscet and Juan Carlos Herrera, Gao Zhisheng and Liu Xiaobo. What kinship do those men have with the terrorists at Guantanamo Bay — who blow up and behead innocent people? What? And how is the United States like Hamas, the Castro dictatorship, the PRC, etc.? How?
Donald Rumsfeld likes to say, “America is not what’s wrong with the world.” We can broaden that to, “The liberal democracies are not what’s wrong with the world.” You know what’s wrong with the world? Terror groups, dictatorships, totalitarian regimes, and the like. And yet so many people, and organizations, like to concentrate their fire on liberal democracies. This is a sickness. And it’s one that many people in unfree countries are sick over. (You should hear some of the Chinese I talk to.)
Reading some of the reaction to my blogpost, I was reminded why I left the Left, many years ago. Happened sometime during college. I was getting curious about the world: wondering about the Soviet Gulag, for example, and the boat people from Vietnam. I would try to raise those issues with those around me. I was immediately suspect as a fascist: “But what about capital punishment here in America? The death penalty, man. What about Agent Orange, man, and My Lai?”
Okay, okay, we could talk about those — we talked about them constantly. But couldn’t we talk about the Gulag and the boat people a bit, too? No, we couldn’t: because the United States was so sinful, we had to run it down full-time. We had no right to criticize other countries. (This did not apply, strangely, to South Africa, Chile, the Philippines . . .)
Some readers may recall a common line from the Soviet Union in the first years of the Cold War: “But what about the Negroes in the South?” That tended to shut down all conversation.
I don’t know about you, but I find it very hard to talk to people who, when you mention the extreme cruelty of Hamas, the Castros, and so on, go right to the United States and its own offenses, real or imagined. Very hard. We simply live on different moral planets.
I guess I spend most of my time, as a journalist, criticizing or bemoaning the United States. I have a complaint a second, it seems: our litigiousness, our racial screwiness, our political correctness, our violence, the grotesque nature of our popular culture. But, you know? The liberal democracies, including the United States, aren’t what’s wrong with the world.
Regular readers may remember a journal I did from Iraq, two years ago. May I quote a relevant portion now? Just give it a scan, if you feel like it:
Our group makes its way to Camp Cropper, to tour a detention center. Must be a hellhole, huh? A nightmare of torture and depravity. Not really. The people who are detained here are very, very lucky detainees indeed — very, very lucky jihadists, or former jihadists.
They have the best medical care, the best nutrition — professionals in white coats looking after them. Diabetes seems to be a problem, and that is treated.
An assortment of classes is held. The detainees learn “life skills.” As the general in charge, Robert Kenyon, says, “Everyone gets a skill set” — they’ll need it on the outside. There are “Islamic discussion” sessions, too.
For some of these people, getting detained is the best break they ever had. They’re not hardcore al-Qaeda: They were in the wrong place, or did a job for money, or were a little screwed up (or a lot). Some detainees don’t want to leave, and, in fact, fear doing so. Some mothers say: “Won’t you keep my son for longer?”
Camp Cropper is very, very different from being captured by al-Qaeda — very different indeed. And the coalition makes a point of telling the detainees so.
When they leave, they get to choose Western or Arab clothing. And they get $25 to put in their pocket. They also have the instruction and care they received.
I think — for the thousandth time during this trip — has there ever been so benign a major power as the United States? Some people would regard that as naïve. I regard them as confused.
About 25 prisoners come in a day, and about 50 are released. Recidivism, we’re told, is very, very low.
Foreigners — non-Iraqis — have their own zone. They are dangerous; they are hardcore al-Qaeda. General Kenyon hopes that they never again see the light of day — that the Iraqis, to whom they’ll be handed over, will keep them locked up. These are not the type to reform, or so it seems.
And they keep themselves in shape — in vicious fighting shape. For example, they’ll sprint around the yard, in the hottest, most hellish weather.
All prisoners have prayer rugs, Korans — the whole nine yards. No Westerner in the place touches a Koran, “out of respect.” One of our band — a fellow journo — says that this swallows the Wahhabist view of Islam and its rules. In any case, the coalition is very, very careful.
There are regular family visits — the detainees see their families. One of the American soldiers says, “That’s more than we get to do.”
There are art classes, and we see what the students — students! — have produced. Some paintings are very nice. An officer tells us that the detainees tend to start off painting guns and the like. Gradually, the paintings get less violent and bleak, and more beautiful. A civilizing effect is seen.
One of the art instructors is a former detainee — a former detainee now on the camp’s payroll. Imagine that.
There are sewing classes too, and the instructor shows us what he calls “the graduation piece” — a camel, known as the Cropper Camel.
I ask again: Has there ever — ever — been a power so benign? What’s al-Qaeda’s equivalent of the Cropper Camel for their detainees — if they had detainees? . . .
We tour the camp’s hospital, which is spick-and-span, and state-of-the-art — all the amenities at hand. I can’t help thinking of a point that the dreadful Michael Moore makes: Detainees such as those in Guantanamo get much, much better medical care than many ordinary Americans. True, true.
Of course, you are responsible for those you capture and hold, if you’re civilized. . . .
I wish Americans, and everyone else, could see the detention center at Camp Cropper — see what Americans and others are doing for those who, after all, were trying to kill them. Would it make any difference?
With some people, I’m afraid it would make no difference. With my venom-spewing e-mailers? I can’t help doubting.