Jonah Goldberg

Well, Osama bin Laden lives across the street. He lives outside our neighborhood, our community, our laws. He lives outside all of the rules of civilization, at war and peace.  Every day, he violates the Geneva Convention before he has his second bowl of muesli. He blows up passenger trains and hijacks civilian aircraft. His henchmen don't wear uniforms, and they don't abide by any of the rules governing professional armies.

We've all seen countless WWII movies about how soldiers out of uniform can be shot as spies under the Geneva Convention. Well, all of al-Qaida's soldiers are spies. And they most emphatically do not provide their prisoners with ping-pong tables and dormitories. They cut off their heads and put the pictures on the Internet and TV. The same goes for Osama's allies and fellow travelers in Iraq.

The liberal punditocracy seems to think it's an obvious fact that the Geneva Convention should apply to the war on terrorism, even though the plain text of the Geneva Convention applies as much to the war on terror as it does to the battle between the Federation and the Klingon Empire.

Sen. Biden surely knows all of this. And so does John Ashcroft, whose son has actually served in Iraq. But why should the facts get in the way of some righteous bloviation in an election year?

Now, this doesn't mean that there aren't other rules governing the behavior of American soldiers, including the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This doesn't mean the military should be free to torture any belligerent who's not party to the Geneva Convention, or that there aren't real costs for American prestige to such behavior.  And, no, this doesn't mean that those responsible for the Abu Ghraib fiasco shouldn't be punished.

But if you think the Geneva Convention is a wonderful thing, I don't understand why you would want to weaken it by saying there's no advantage to signing it. Al-Qaida and the Iraqi insurgents defy all the rules enshrined and symbolized by the Geneva Convention (and, often, the Koran) and yet administration critics piously demand that these thugs should be given all the benefits that come with being a signatory to it.

Well, if the barbarians get all of the benefits of the Geneva Convention without obeying any of its rules, then it becomes not merely quaint, not merely worthless, but a tool of those who wish to overthrow all it stands for.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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