Each day, more and more it seems, the Old Gray Lady transmogrifies into America’s al-Jazeera. The following appeared in a New York Times editorial this weekend:
For more than two years now, about 600 men have been kept in American custody in Cuba, and the odds are that some–perhaps most–were merely hapless Afghan foot soldiers or bystanders swept up in the confusion of the American invasion. But it took the Supreme Court to tell the Bush administration they could not be kept there forever without giving them a chance to contest their imprisonment. [Emphasis added.]
First of all, the Times has absolutely no basis in fact–none–for this preposterous supposition. The military picked up thousands of people on the battlefields of Afghanistan. It screened and released the vast majority (well over 90 percent) of them. Of the remaining number, even more were weeded out before being sent to Guantanamo. While there were well over 800 Gitmo detainees a few months ago, that number–after months of interrogation and investigation–has been reduced by more than a quarter under circumstances where litigation and public scrutiny have caused intense interest.
That is, given the screening, the attendant political costs, and the burden involved in keeping prisoners (and there’s more to say on the burden, presently), there is every reason to believe that the 600 still being held are extremely dangerous. Does the Times think there are no dangerous al Qaeda operatives?
Let’s not forget, this latest pining about Guantanamo detainees from the Afghan theatre comes from the very same newspaper that has–when to do so suited its transparently anti-Bush electioneering–complained that the U.S., to prosecute the purportedly faux terror war in Iraq, has failed to commit a sufficient number of troops to deal with the supposedly “real” terror war in Afghanistan. Well which is it then? Afghanistan was a vipers’ nest or the gang that couldn’t shoot straight? Depends on which Kerry script the Times decides to read from on any given day.
Second, if, as the Times editors wantonly speculate, some of the detainees are mere “Afghan foot soldiers,” whom exactly do they think we’ve been fighting over there? The al Qaeda air force? That unit–all 19 of them–already carried out its mission, remember? And they needed our planes to do it.
Foot soldiers–however “hapless” the Times editors, nestled in their comfy New York offices, may see them as–are the ones shooting at our guys. The laws of war (not to mention common sense, however uncommon it may be) say these are the enemy troops that may be captured and held until the conclusion of hostilities to prevent them from rejoining the battle. It is simply astounding that the Times continues with maximum ostentation to decry the loss of American military lives while advocating policies guaranteed to kill more of them.
Finally, it is no doubt true that in the other cases addressed in the Times’s latest agitprop, the government–to be sure that it was not releasing terrorists and to avoid the embarrassment of being shown to have apprehended people based on insufficient evidence–had a powerful incentive to detain people longer than we would like it, in hindsight, to have done. But those cases were legal proceedings involving an Oregon lawyer mistakenly implicated in the Madrid bombing, an American army captain and chaplain suspected of espionage, and an illegal alien held on suspicion of terrorism after he was observed videotaping the FBI’s New York office–which, the Times might be reminded, was the object of a terrorist bombing plot in 1993 by militants who spent a good deal of time conducting surveillance of it.
To the contrary, the U.S. military at war has a powerful incentive not to hold prisoners. Prisoners must be maintained, a resource-draining proposition especially when maintenance follows the unprecedented standards adhered to in this conflict–which include provision of halal meals, Islamic literature, prayer breaks, and sundry accommodations to terrorists. The prosecutors may be trying to build cases, but the military is trying to subdue the enemy in combat. The more assets that have to be devoted to prisoner detention and maintenance, the fewer are available for battle engagement. That is precisely why so few of the people initially held and screened end up being detained for any length of time. It is why hundreds of even the detained have been released.
Thanks to the Supreme Court’s disastrous Rasul decision last week, the Times now has its wish: foreign alien combatants with no legitimate claim to rights under the U.S. Constitution have now been given access to American courts to contest their detention in the middle of a war. Judges, rather than professional soldiers, will be asked to manage the risk to our troops on the battlefield. Hasn’t the deck already been stacked prodigiously enough? Does the Times, against the weight of evidence and rationality, always have to give the benefit of the doubt to America’s enemies?
–Andrew C. McCarthy led the 1995 terrorism prosecution against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven others.