October 03, 2006

Steyn: Sometimes he's not even trying

In another weak effort from Mark Steyn, one finds this:

This is the only war in American history in which enemy detainees have been freed before the end of hostilities.

In the War of 1812, the parole of prisoners (releasing with a promise they will not fight again until officially exchanged) was common. There were numerous prisoner exchanges in the American Civil War. I'm sure if I wasted time I could find examples on point from the Indian and Mexican wars, too. It's like Steyn's not even trying anymore.

Posted by BruceR at 11:20 AM

Upshots of long ago decisions

It's all well and good to say "moderate Taliban" should be brought into negotiations of some sort, but regardless of the merits it's kind of hard to sell with your domestic base after five years of constant demonization. Way back when, this blog suggested that the Americans categorizing all Afghan insurgents by definition as "unlawful enemy combatants" would backfire, and I'm afraid it has, big time. A lot of the problems with innocent people trapped at Guantanamo, largely Taliban foot soldiers or camp followers, can be traced to this decision. Never mind the occasional horrors of custody that were found at Bagram, as well.

There was never an argument from a basis of utility, either. Al Qaeda and Taliban were, and are, distinct entities by ethnic and geographic origin, if not mindset. While bringing the hammer down on Al Qaeda operatives worldwide with harsh rules on captivity, etc. seems to have been a net positive in terms of Western security, I have never heard of any Taliban among those 14 "high value" terrorists in CIA custody. Instead, sucking up a vast quantity of Afghan foot-soldiers into an American gulag-lite seem to have done little but piss off even larger quantities of Afghans and endanger the lives of Western troops in that country through the resulting increased hostility.

One thing the Americans might want to do first is recognize that Afghanistan is notionally an independent country now, and turn over any and all remaining Afghan nationals in their custody outside of Afghanistan to their care. Empower President Karzai by letting him make the decisions about who to pardon and who, if any, to keep. After that, in the Afghan fight, and leaving aside questions when actual international jihadist types (ie, captured non-Afghans) are involved, the U.S. could consider adopting the same policy towards Afghan detainees, one that recently won ICRC approval, that Canada and the Netherlands are now using (turnover to local authority, scrupulous documentation of all captures provided to the ICRC, and follow-up to prevent local authorities torturing "their" POWs).

Nevertheless, there's still a lot to unwind here. The new Torture Act specifically refers to all Taliban as, by definition, "unlawful enemy combatants," ie, international terrorists intent on making war on the United States. Suggesting somebody else should be rebranding, as Matthew Yglesias does, is really quite pointless in the face of that kind of legally defined eternal hostility towards the entire Afghan insurgency on the part of the American government.

When you're in a hole, first stop digging. Then we can have a discussion about which, if any, of the non-Al Qaeda Afghan insurgent factions are worth negotiating with.

A good example of the kind of frenzy that the American government has built up in its support base re Afghanistan.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, diehard opponents of negotiating with the Taliban in other countries may need to start hedging their bets, as well. Now we see the Brits are making some local accommodations in Helmand.

Posted by BruceR at 10:28 AM