Soft justice at Guantanamo weakens war effort

October 31, 2006|By Vasko Kohlmayer

President Bush has asserted that many of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay are "cold-blooded killers." If this is truly so, then the president needs to explain why not a single one of them has been executed.

After all, this is what we routinely do with domestic killers. In fact, we execute them for far lesser crimes than those committed by many of the captured terrorists. It is not uncommon, for instance, to receive the death penalty for unpremeditated murder in robberies gone awry.

Many of the jihadists at Guantanamo, on the other hand, are allegedly either serial murderers or have conspired to commit acts of mass murder. If they do not deserve the ultimate punishment, who does? And yet, during the five years of the war on terror, not one of them has been brought to account.

Not only has our government defied the demands of justice, it has compounded its failing by pampering those who should have stood condemned. They have received nutritious meals, first-rate medical care, brand new Qurans, assorted religious paraphernalia and many other perks and privileges. In fact, our government has shown far greater zeal in securing the well-being of these accused foreign criminals than that of many of its own citizens.

No one who contravenes justice in so egregious a manner should expect success in its endeavors, for ultimately there must be a price to pay. In our case, it has turned out to be a steep one.

Our enemies - foreign and domestic - have seized on our weakness to portray America as a willful practitioner of torture, while the accused terrorists in our custody have been cast as victims. Notwithstanding the facts, their campaign of deception and vilification has turned the United States into a villain, putting us through a public relations nightmare.

Bad as this may seem, though, it represents the least harm we have suffered as a result of Guantanamo.

As most people are aware, for a liberal democracy to successfully prosecute a war - especially one as protracted and difficult as the war on terrorism promises to be - it needs the support of the majority of its people. The public, however, will give its backing only under one of two conditions: It perceives the enemy as posing an immediate threat or it views him as an evil that cannot be tolerated. World War II was a classic example of the latter.

Not having been hit in more than five years, most people in this country no longer deem a terrorist attack an immediate threat. The only way to elicit their support, then, is to keep them continually cognizant of the enemy's true nature.

In this, the administration has failed miserably. By taking nearly five years to call Islamo-fascists by their true name, Mr. Bush himself has done much to set back our cause on this front.

But the government's greatest failing has been at Guantanamo. Had we placed the most obviously culpable detainees before tribunals and presented evidence of their dastardly acts, they would no longer appear as victims. On the contrary, there would be an outcry of anger and indignation. The solemn meting out of punishment would then powerfully underscore their depravity and convey our determination to purge this evil from our world. The simultaneous release of those found innocent would further accentuate our commitment to fair play.

Such an approach would draw the world's attention to where it needs to be: on the iniquity of our foe rather than on the imaginary shortcomings in our delivery of prisoner care. The United States would be seen for what it truly is: the power willing to stand up and fight back against the forces of barbarism. This not only would go a long way toward steeling this nation's resolve but also would spur those in other places who are getting increasingly unsettled about the possibility of America's defeat.

Nothing has perhaps dampened the fighting spirit of the American people more than the sad charade at Guantanamo Bay. If our government - which is supposed to lead the charge - rewards the worst among our enemies in such outlandish ways, why should the populace get excited about defeating them? Many have bemoaned the glaring lack of urgency among large segments of the U.S. population for this war. Guantanamo is one of the reasons why.

There may still be time to reverse some of the damage that has been done at Guantanamo. It is to be hoped that the legislation recently passed will quickly translate into military tribunals that will deliver justice in swift and solemn fashion. We can't afford to flaunt its demands any longer

Vasko Kohlmayer is a freelance writer. His e-mail is

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