Yesterday, Ed Morrissey wrote an article over at Hot Air criticizing the Obama administration’s plans to create an indefinite detention system for untriable terrorists:
There are two main problems with pursuing an indefinite-detention law. First, any exception carved out of those Constitutional rights will only serve as a precedent for further exceptions. This is truly a slippery slope. Right now, the lawmakers say that the exception will only apply to al-Qaeda terrorists, but what about child molesters? There has been an ongoing debate for many years over the lack of rehabilitation of serial molesters. When they have served their prison time, they get released — but some communities have petitioned for indefinite detention of molesters beyond their sentence. And after child molesters, how about rapists? What about gang members, and Mafia racketeers?
I wrote my own article last year criticizing the proposal. Ed is right, of course. I don’t think the fear of this system sliding the slope down into types of crimes with organizations with setups very similar to those of terrorists can be discounted. After all, both gang members and Mafia men might be very likely to go back into those lives after their sentences.
If the terrorists have signed up for a perpetual war, that’s their problem and not ours. We can choose to release them or not depending on our own goals and decisions.
I, also wrote an article last year criticizing Ed for his “hold them until the end of hostilities” argument. Looking back, I didn’t do a great job of explaining my position, so I’ll try to clarify it better now.
My problem with Ed’s argument is that he’s essentially saying “lets hold them indefinitely, anyway,” but he is just using a different rationale to make the case. While Obama suggests that legal complications would make it difficult to prosecute these people, Ed applies the very ill-defined term “war on terrorism” as reason to keep them locked up. Of course, by its very nature, terrorism is something that always exists. If Osama bin Laden surrendered himself and all his followers tomorrow, would that be enough to end the war on terrorism? No, because someone would take their place. Since 9/11, Al-Qaeda has been transformed from a self-contained terrorist group to the name of a worldwide network of quasi-federated cells.
Even if “Al-Qaeda,” defined as the group led by OBL was defeated tomorrow, someone else would take their place. There’s a chance a terrorist we’re holding might take the opportunity to join that group instead upon release. Should we still hold them then? Ed’s argument would probably be yes, since the terrorists remain in a state of perpetual war. So we are free to continue holding them until the war ends, whenever that is.
This remains a case of not only an international treaty that is very outdated but a war that is ill defined. The Geneva Conventions were written in a time when nations fought each other, not guerrilla groups. The provisions allowing combatant nations to hold Prisoners of War until hostilities ends allows for cases like this where the goals of said war are so broad and ambiguous that there is not a chance they will ever truly be achieved. This has been the problem since day 1 of the “War on Terror,” and I think the Obama administration has ample opportunity to actually define what tasks we’re supposed to complete in our mission.
More over, the Geneva Conventions needs some additions, so as to specify what nations must do in situations where we’re not fighting against a state-level actor.
To end, I think Ed is right that the terrorists sort of asked for it by committing themselves to terrorism. On the other hand, I think a catch-22 situation has been created by rules of war that don’t jive with modern times and a war with objectives that remain very fuzzy.
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