Jonah Goldberg

There's a lot I don't understand about the current hysteria over our prison facility at Guantanamo Bay. At the top of the list is why no one has mentioned Louis Pepe or Mamdouh Mahmud Salim.

Salim, a reputed top lieutenant of Osama Bin Laden, was being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a high security federal jail in lower Manhattan. Pepe was a guard there. On November 1, 2000, Salim plunged a sharpened comb into Pepe's left eye and three inches into his brain. Salim and a compatriot also beat Pepe savagely, in their effort to get the guard's keys and orchestrate an escape for himself and two fellow terrorists awaiting trial. Believing Pepe was dead, the attackers used his own blood to paint a Christian cross on his torso. Pepe was an experienced correctional officer, a member of the elite MCC Enforcers Disturbance Control, and he weighed in at 300 pounds. He survived the attack with brain damage, crippling disabilities and an unending stream of surgeries.

The reason Pepe and Salim are relevant should be obvious. There are good guys and bad guys in this story, and as much as it pains some to hear it, we are the good guys. We are not talking about confused teenagers caught up in events larger than themselves. We aren't talking about mistaken identities. We're talking about the cream of our enemy's crop in the war on terror.

Critics of the Bush Administration are fond of the argument that the war in Iraq is a distraction from the real war on terror. John Kerry, Howard Dean and countless others have argued that Iraq diluted our efforts in Afghanistan, the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, and the worldwide consensus on the need to destroy al-Qaida. That's an argument worth having - and we have had it many times over. But if it were all true and we had never invaded Iraq, we would still have Guantanamo and the problem of what to do with hardened, dedicated terrorists like Salim.

Of course, we could close Guantanamo, but if you actually support the war on terror you must recognize that we would still need someplace like it. A rose by any other name and all that. We can't summarily execute every al-Qaida member we capture. Not just because that would raise legitimate moral and legal problems, but because we can't win unless we interrogate these guys.

Senator Joe Biden said that while we should close Gitmo and release the occupants, we should also "keep those we have reason to keep." Huh? This is the logical equivalent of Solomon saying, "Hey, let's cut the baby in half after all." Imagine if, instead of Gitmo, the issue was the death penalty. "The death penalty should be abolished, but let's execute the folks there's a reason to execute."


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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