Bet You Can’t Eat Just One

Christopher Hitchens, who was once a great writer and champion of things decent, continues his descent to an alcoholism-addled hell with this piece in Slate involving an Iraqi t.v. program in which captured insurgents confess and allocute as to their various crimes against the Iraqi people. I concur with him that the program sounds fascinating, albeit horrific, in its juxtaposition of horrifying beheadings and other heinous acts while the subject confesses to training, rehearsing and motivating, to remove any mystique surrounding the insurgency, which consists of an awful lot of non-Iraqis.
The ever-journalistic Hitchens notes that such practices couldn’t (legally) be done by us, because showing prisoners captured in war would violate Geneva Conventions, a problem the nascent Iraqi government needn’t concern itself with, as these are its prisoners. But then Hitchens falls into the abyss of a growing meme, made all the more insidious because intelligent people like him have fallen for it.
That meme is simply that Al Qaeda and its minions are not signatories to the Geneva Conventions or anything else, and therefore, its personnel, who don’t fight in uniform, are not subject to… the Geneva Conventions or anything else (other than getting served lemon chicken in between being chained to a chair and pumped with fluids).
I don’t really know how to express how dangerous the moral slippery slope is, so I’ll just jump around. The Empire of Japan (“Rape of Nanking”, “Batan Death March”, “Bridge over the River Kwai”) was pretty nasty to prisoners of war it captured, including Americans (something like 1 in 5 of whom died in Japanese custody). The Roosevelt and Truman Administrations made a conscious choice, however, that notwithstanding these brazen violations by our enemy, this country would adhere to the Geneva Conventions to the letter. To. The. Letter. When American colonials were butchered by Hessian mercenaries in the American Revolutionary War, General George Washington demanded– DEMANDED– that Americans who captured Hessians and British regulars treat those prisoners decently and humanely– even though there was no convention then signed by the nascent United States of America and if there was, the British were violating it anyway.
In the end, this isn’t about Al Qaeda, or the Taliban, or anyone else. It is about us. Either we are better than our enemies, or we are NOT better than our enemies, period. If we could defeat Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany without discarding our laws or treaty obligations, if we waited out the Soviet Union and its clear capability to vaporize us many times over, why, for God’s sake, are a few hundred jihadists suddenly a mortal threat requiring tossing away our legal and moral values in one fell swoop?
In practical terms, we lose moral authority as to calling those who capture our personnel to honor conventions and treat them humanely; our military is well aware of this. We also lose the most powerful and important weapon in our arsenal– a weapon more critical since we are skimping on the size of our ground forces for domestic political reasons: our moral authority. In short, this short-sighted feel-good torture is counter-productive to our military objectives.
But that’s not really what this is about. This is about us. Are we behaving “like Nazis” or “like Soviets”? I don’t care, and frankly, it begs the question, because it implies that the question of whether nations or actors that behave even worse than we are now behaving is somehow relevant. It is not relevant. Not even a little relevant.
The question is, are we behaving in a manner worthy of the United States and our Constitution? That is the relevant question. The fact that the answer is “no, not even close” is what we need to concern ourselves with, and the eloquent sophistry of an alcoholic English wit and other intelligent sounding moral bankrupts, doesn’t change that most unpleasant and uncomfortable answer.