The Corner

National Security & Defense

Released Gitmo Detainees Killed Americans — No One Should Be Shocked

This is the least surprising, most infuriating news of the day:

The Obama administration believes that at least 12 detainees released from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have launched attacks against U.S. or allied forces in Afghanistan, killing about a half-dozen Americans, according to current and former U.S. officials.

In March, a senior Pentagon official made a startling admission to lawmakers when he acknowledged that former Guantanamo inmates were responsible for the deaths of Americans overseas.

The official, Paul Lewis, who oversees Guantanamo issues at the Defense Department, provided no details, and the Obama administration has since declined to elaborate publicly on his statement because the intelligence behind it is classified.

It remains stunning the extent to which many on the left and some on the right view Gitmo as some form of human-rights atrocity without meaningfully grappling with the real-world alternatives. When we transfer custody of battlefield detainees to foreign authorities, they’re often housed in revolving-door facilities that release terrorists back into the population with terrifying frequency or in conditions that combine mass-scale jihadist indoctrination with appalling human-rights violations. When we maintain custody ourselves in prisons in Afghanistan or Iraq, the detention lasts only as long as our presence and ultimately means transfer once again to foreign authorities under unsatisfactory terms. Indeed, the lack of an effective detainee policy has hampered American arms since Gitmo essentially stopped accepting new inmates.

So long as our enemies wear civilian clothes, conceal themselves in civilian populations, and commit themselves to an indefinite struggle against American arms, we are going to find ourselves making extraordinarily difficult detainee decisions. But to the anti-war Left, it’s all so easy — unless you can prove cases with evidence similar to that used in civilian courts, we have to let the prisoners go. Never mind that civilian-level investigations are impossible in the vast majority of cases (have you ever tried taking witness statements and dusting for fingerprints in Taliban-held territory?), the imperative has long been to empty the jails, and let detainees go free.

At its heart, the dispute boils down to the nature of the conflict and the combatants. Are Americans engaged in crime-fighting or war-fighting? If it’s the former, then detainee policy would and should look much like what the Left advocates, complete with comprehensive investigations and exacting legal process. But it’s the latter, and in war the unlawful combatant pays a high price for his war crime of fighting disguised as a civilian, and he should consider himself fortunate that America is far more merciful than combatants in wars past. But our mercy should have its limits. If terrorists wish to fight indefinitely, they should realize that their detentions will last just as long as their belligerence — even if they all die in jail.

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