Charles Krauthammer
Recommend this article
WASHINGTON--Guantanamo is hopping and the jackals are howling. Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands--stalwart allies who held America's coat during the war in Afghanistan--are complaining that the Guantanamo prisoners are not accorded POW rights under the Geneva Conventions. Amnesty International is shocked that we are using shackles. The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Mary Robinson, is disturbed that the United States might be violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. (Yes, the same Mary Robinson who, in the name of famine relief, made the idiotic demand for a cessation of U.S. bombing five days after it began--a demand that would have resulted in untold Afghan deaths in a famine now ended by the American victory.) The British tabloids are apoplectic, achieving full-throated silliness when the Mail on Sunday managed an allusion to slavery: ``Each man is handcuffed and wears leg irons, a term that survives from slave-trading days.'' Thanks for the etymology. No thanks for the advice. We should treat these complaints with the contempt they deserve. The critical issue in the treatment of these captured fighters is whether, under international law, they are prisoners of war or ``unlawful combatants.'' An Iraqi soldier captured in Kuwait is a prisoner of war entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions. An al Qaeda fighter captured anywhere is not. By self-definition, al Qaeda members are ``unlawful combatants,'' meaning people who fight outside the recognized rules of war. Among the distinguishing characteristics of unlawful combatants are these: They deliberately attack civilians, and they deliberately infiltrate among civilians by not wearing an insignia or uniform. Al Qaeda openly practices both. In 1996, Osama bin Laden issued ``A Declaration of War Against the Americans.'' Note: not ``against the United States.'' Unlike, say, Nazi Germany and Japan, al Qaeda declared war not on the state but on the people. In 1998, bin Laden declared that ``to kill the Americans and their allies--civilians and military--is an individual duty for every Muslim.'' Osama said it. And on Sept. 11, al Qaeda did it. And they did it the way terrorists do: out of uniform, by means of infiltration and concealment. You join al Qaeda, you join an outlaw army. You explicitly violate--and thus forfeit the protection of--the Geneva Conventions. Indeed, denying such murderers POW rights vindicates the Geneva Conventions, and encourages others to adhere to them, by reserving their protections for those who observe their strictures. The jackals are wrong on the law. They also deeply misunderstand the purpose of the capture of these prisoners. It is not to ``bring them to justice'' as we would domestic bank robbers, but to prosecute an ongoing war by finding out what they know about how al Qaeda works and what future massacres it is planning. We need information, or more innocent civilians will die. Information obtained as a result of the Afghan war has already thwarted planned attacks on Americans in Singapore and Yemen and exposed sleeper agents throughout the world. POWs are required to give only their name, rank, serial number and date of birth. Granting the Guantanamo prisoners POW status is thus militarily ridiculous. If they have information, we need to get it. There is a war on. This fact, too, seems to have escaped the critics. They deem the prisoners POWs of the Afghan war. But then, the Taliban having fallen and the war winding down, these men would have to be released, as are POWs at the end of ``active hostilities,'' as ordinary Iraqi soldiers were released with the end of the Gulf War. This is lunacy. The war is not against Afghanistan. It is against al Qaeda. And the war is ongoing until al Qaeda either recants or surrenders or disbands or is destroyed. Until then, these prisoners are not the detritus of a leftover war. They are active combatants, and unlawful ones. We should do whatever it takes to get from them whatever information we need to win that war. Chris Patten, the European Union external affairs commissioner, is concerned that by doing so the United States is ``losing the moral high ground.'' Too bad. Right now, what is of supreme importance to Americans is not the moral high ground of salon opinion but the strategic high ground of military intelligence--the advantage we gain in combating terror with the knowledge we glean from these prisoners. The world loves us, bleeding and suffering nobly, at the moral high ground of Ground Zero. To which we say: No thank you. Our paramount national duty today is to prevent another Sept. 11, not to glory in the moral high ground--the moral vanity--of the victimhood we earned last Sept. 11.
Recommend this article

Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

Be the first to read Krauthammer's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.