Rant about “enemy combatants”

geekymary wrote a great entry regarding Guantanamo Bay, to which I responded, and I wanted to repost my response here. The original entry is a lot more detailed and well-researched… my contribution is clearly just a rant by comparison. (Thanks to rmjwell for the link.)

The tone of the Geneva Conventions is one of respect for the other entity, despite the fact that you’re at war with them. Do terrorist groups deserve that respect? I’d say not. However, there’s another entity – humanity.

I think this points to the problem I have had with the treatment of “enemy combatants” since I first heard about Guantanamo. Humanity.

We don’t grant civil liberties to criminals because they have done something to deserve it. We refer to robbers as innocent until proven guilty. We give rapists a hearing before a judge. We protect extortionists against unreasonable search and seizure. We grant murderers a jury trial.

Do we do these things because they did something to deserve such special treatment? No. We grant civil liberties to everyone, not because of who *they* are, but because of who *we* are, and who we strive to be. We are Americans, from the United States, and above all, we are Humans and that is how our society believes we should treat other Humans. (That includes not just our citizens but illegal aliens as well.)

I believe the whole idea behind the Geneva Convention was to extend Human Rights to a group that may not otherwise get them, especially given the nature of war and the widely varying governments and regimes that we might be at war with, very few of which have a Bill of Rights. I think whether or not someone meets the definition of “prisoner of war”, that shouldn’t determine whether they are entitled to human rights.

The whole word game the administration plays is a subtle but effective device to dehumanize the people they believe are beneath our notice. “Enemy combantants” – they are careful not to use the term “prisoners of war”, but it’s pretty clear that they are prisoners and that we are at war. But, that doesn’t even get to the heart of the matter. Even if they are not entitled to protection of Geneva, they should be entitled to something. If they aren’t “prisoners of war” should we not treat them with the same care we would be required to use if they were arrested on our own soil for the same crime?

If they are not prisoners of war, and they aren’t criminals, why are we holding them?

In 2001 I heard from a number of sources, that if we start to live in fear, then the terrorists have won. This seems to have morphed into something closer to: if we don’t go to the mall and buy big-screen TVs, the terrorists have one. Now with zero percent interest. But there is an important point close to being lost here. If we give in to our fears, and allow our fears to take control such that we are driven to strip others of their human rights when it’s convenient for us, we have surrendered something we all hold dear. We then cease to live in a country that is all about liberty and justice for all. We have started down the path of Us vs. Them.

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