It is more than ironic that while Amnesty International and other human-rights organizations were bashing American treatment of Afghanistan detainees, a small group of AL Qaeda soldiers was holed up in a Kandahar hospital, threatening to kill themselves or any nonmedical personnel who entered their space.
And human-rights activists call the Bush administration inhumane.
Rather than evacuating the hospital and vaporizing the Al Qaeda soldiers with a bomb, U.S. and Afghan troops tried to starve the soldiers out. While critics called the tactic inhumane, in fact, it was feckless. Apparently, some hospital personnel snuck sustenance to these local heroes who were holding a hospital hostage.
Of the 19 fighters who originally took over the hospital, The Washington Post reported, some escaped during the next 50 days, some were captured and one man blew himself up with a grenade during a foiled escape attempt. On Monday, with six Arabs left in the hospital, Afghan and U.S. troops stormed the building. All of the Arabs died -- at least one had blown himself up. Five Afghans and no Americans were wounded in the assault.
An Afghan police officer told the Post: "We tried to arrest them alive. If we wanted to kill them, we could do it in 15 minutes."
Of course, the United States should treat the 158 prisoners at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay and the 324 fighters detained in Afghanistan humanely. But violent maniacs who believe in killing civilians do not merit, as Amnesty International asserts, the special provisions designed to protect grunts trapped in wars not of their own making, and whose only crime was serving their country's military.
On the contrary, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer noted yesterday, the detainees are "typically non-uniformed people who moved to Afghanistan -- from more than 30 nations in the case of the detainees in Cuba -- for the purpose of engaging in terror, not for the purpose of engaging in military combat, which is typically what you think of when you think of the Geneva Convention."
Then again, there have been no credible charges of serious mistreatment. A British TV journalist equated blindfolds and earplugs used when moving prisoners with sensory deprivation. British papers have called the 8-by-8-foot cells "cages." Such criticism only works if you know nothing about moving prisoners, or you don't know that the commander of Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay found rocks and stones in the detainees' cells.
Realists understand -- as U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., noted after visiting the detainee center in Guantanamo -- Camp X-Ray cells are larger than cells at San Quentin, where there are usually two prisoners per cell. (Camp X- Ray cells are also bigger than my work cubicle.)
"It's troubling that the detainees apparently are being declared ineligible for POW status" without hearings, Amnesty International spokesman Alistair Hodgett complained to The Washington Post. Actually, it might be troubling, if you didn't know that U.S. forces have turned over "up to 100 or more" captives to their native countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to Lt. Col. Martin Compton. (It is assumed that, one official explained to me, those countries released many of those men.) So it's clear that the United States doesn't consider every enemy fighter to be an outlaw.
As for troubling, it comes in three varieties. There's "troubling" -- as in giving good meals and medical care to men who terrorized a nation, but putting off deciding their long-term future until they've been investigated and interrogated. Then there's "troubling" as in holding a hospital hostage and believing that it is holy to kill non-Muslims. And there's "troubling" as in not knowing which of the two "troubling" areas is more troubling.