Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Taking Fewer Prisoners: Now Why Would That Be ?

The AP has noticed that American forces are taking fewer prisoners in Afghanistan. The AP says one reason is "partly to forestall more complaints" about the military's conduct.
Well, duh.
What did the lawyers and journalists so concerned about the tender feelings of the terrorists in custody at Guantanamo and Abu Gharib think would happen when they started filing lawsuits and publishing tripe about the fate of prisoners at the hands of the "brutal" US military ? The terrorist who beheads a hostage today, or throws a grenade at your neighbor's son in Afghanistan tomorrow may one day be the plaintiff in a civil rights lawsuit, or a cause celebre for our friends at the New York Times editorial and op-ed page to vapor about.
Do you suppose the soldiers, far from home and in danger daily, might not be so amused at the antics of the press and the ACLU ? (The same crowd, by the way, that swore up and down during the recent election that they "supported the troops" but didn't like their cause.) Well, the troops read the papers too. Far easier for them to simply say, "no prisoner, no problem."
The interference of the possibly well meaning (although El Jefe questions this) chattering classes in matters about which they know nothing will have deleterious effects on all concerned. First, the sensitivity to the handling of prisoners makes prosecution of the war harder, because it is harder to extract useful intelligence from the prisoners we do take. Third degree type interrogation will go on, of course, but it will be be performed by Afghans, Iraqis and other friendly intelligence services beyond the reach of US legal processes, and out of the sight of the press. (Google the term "extraordinary rendition"). Of course, all these countries and intelligence entities have their own agendas, and getting US commanders usable real-time tactical intelligence is not necessarily a priority.
Also, the attention of the press and lawyers to the plight of the enemy prisoners is dangerous for the US soldiers in the field. When the issue of prisoners comes up: in addition to the immediate problem of their own safety and that of their comrades -- the soldiers now have to weigh the down-the-line consequences of live witnesses giving rhetorical and legal ammunition to unfriendly lawyerly and media second-guessers who quail at using a fly-swatter, and can neither relate to nor care about 20-somethings on the sharp-end (let alone their officers) who just want to make it home without being shot. Dangerous, too, morally and legally for the soldiers, and a threat to discipline, because the man in the field knows that the chain of command has somewhat less of an interest in prisoners, and consequently, the troops in the field are being put in the position of finding it expedient to commit acts that possibly amount to real war crimes, as opposed to trivia.

All this is dangerous also for our Afghan and Iraqi enemies in the field, who might wish to lay down their arms and surrender, itself a dangerous act that by its very nature is fraught with opportunities for misunderstandings and sudden death under the best of conditions. Now the opponents of the terrorists have an additional complication to consider in accepting surrenders. Our enemies, whatever they are, are not stupid -- they or their bosses even read AP. What do you think will be their reaction when they read that the US military is taking fewer prisoners because of complaints about their treatment ? Fewer surrenders...and possibly, more Americans hurt or killed.
There is no law so implacable as the law of unintended consequences. Do the lawyers, media and the commentariat grasp this at all. Would they care if they did ?

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