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Shoot Gitmo Detainees?

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A not-entirely-facetious consideration of the Gitmo conundrum President Barack Obama has renewed his call for closing down the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and has thereby refreshed his conflict with congressional Republicans over the future of the facility, currently home to 91 sundry villains captured abroad during our ongoing national confrontation with the forces of radical Islam.

Gitmo presents the government with a triple bind: For President Obama, Gitmo is a hated symbol of President George W. Bush’s (purported) bellicosity and disregard for civil liberties; never mind that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate currently resident in the White House has discovered a strange, new, and convenient respect for other such Bush-era innovations as drone assassinations (which Obama expanded to include the extrajudicial execution, i.e., murder, of U.S. citizens) and the PATRIOT Act and NSA spying and the rest. All that can stay, in the president’s view, but Gitmo has to go. The second and third parts of the triple bind are 1) the fact that Congress will not cooperate with relocating Gitmo prisoners to the United States and thus invite meddling in military matters by domestic magistrates, and 2) the fact that, understandably enough, no other country is willing to accept these misfits.

But the usual framing of the question — keep them in Gitmo or send them to some federal Supermax — presents a false choice that ignores a seldom discussed option for dealing with these prisoners.

I refer, of course, to the relatively straightforward expedient of shooting them. The prisoners held at Gitmo are, for the most part, what is known under international law as “francs-tireurs,” non-uniformed militiamen who conduct sabotage and terrorism operations against occupation forces. Under Article 4 of the Geneva Conventions, fighters eligible for the protections extended to prisoners of war are obliged to meet several criteria, including the wearing of uniforms or fixed insignia and — here’s the rub for the Islamic State et al. — conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war. Non-uniformed militiamen and insurgents sawing the heads off of Wall Street Journal reporters do not qualify for Geneva Convention protections. They are, under the applicable international law, subject to summary execution, as are captured spies, terrorists, and the like.

So: Why not shoot them?

This takes us to a broader moral question about the use of execution per se. While U.S. military policy is not governed by Catholic teaching, it is worth considering Rome’s thinking on the question. If you listened only to U.S. bishops, who have an unfortunate weakness for peddling social-justice nostrums, you’d be tempted to conclude that the Catholic Church is categorically opposed to the practice of capital punishment. In fact, canon law is much more sophisticated than the Nerf-headed progressivism that dominates the American episcopal corpus, and it takes account of such relevant considerations as whether the sparing of an offender’s life might put innocents in mortal danger. We already have adjudicated that question: That the prisoners at Gitmo present a mortal danger both to U.S. forces abroad as well as civilians in the United States and around the world is precisely why they remain prisoners at Gitmo. Those who have been judged (often wrongly!) to present no future threat are discharged. Catholic or otherwise, the fact that these men are likely to commit unspeakable outrages of the sort that we have come to expect from the worldwide Islamic-supremacist movement is unavoidably relevant.

So: Why not shoot them?


Source: Kevin D Williamson, www.nationalreview.com