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Aid & Comfort

12/13/01

What do you call trading life in a winter-whipped cave for three squares, regular showers, and the chance to write home from a Caribbean clime? According to the British Mirror, you wouldn’t have won the best ticket out of town. You would be “brutalized, tortured and humiliated” - while participating in ritual prayers on a provided mat holding a copy of your holy text, a gift from your heartless captors.

Such is the plight of the 158 Taliban prisoners putting on weight at Camp X-Ray down in Guantanamo, Cuba. Odds are these sidetracked suicide bombers have few complaints other than the color of their coveralls. But the rest of the world certainly seems to.

“War crime!” cried Amnesty International. “Monstrous inhumanity!” shrieked The Mail on Sunday. The European Union, Germany, and the Netherlands joined in, and the Red Cross jetted south to conduct interviews “in a calm, serene situation” where the terrorists were given cigarettes and a chance to write postcards.

We’re building permanent facilities in accordance with U.S. federal prison standards (the Red Cross is concerned that two to a cell may constitute overcrowding), and a Muslim cleric has been flown in to discuss “religious issues.” Meals are prepared according to Islamic standards, those suffering war wounds receive treatment, and a green and white Arabic sign points the way to Mecca so the prisoners can orient their prayers. All that’s missing is chocolates on the pillows. Yet the backlash continues.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld maintains that our Guantanamo guests are being held "properly, humanely, appropriately -- consistent with international conventions." Indeed they are - even though they needn’t be. Combatants shielded by Geneva protections wear uniforms, carry visible weapons (civilian aircraft not included), and “respect the laws and customs of war.” These terrorists’ disregard for conventional war disqualifies them from standard niceties, yet the U.S. cares for them in relative comfort as befits a good nation.

Those who argue otherwise are not misinformed. Pictures have been released, press is allowed easy access. Anyone tuned to the evening news knows the “cages” are 8-by-8 chain-link holding cells. “Manacled hand and foot” only applied to plane trips these passengers have proved some propensity for disrupting. And the guards engaged in “torture” administer insect repellent, not sodium pentothal. The Pentagon has been clear about conditions. The Blame America Firsters simply choose to believe otherwise.

Starting from the supposition that the U.S. is exploitative, intolerant, unjust, our self-loathing elites take up the cause of killers who fit that profile far better than their fellow countrymen. Thus this bizarre preoccupation with the rights of prisoners rather than the safety of citizens. Truth is, treating agents of terror as traditional soldiers is a luxury we can scarce afford. They didn’t need “laws and customs” to conduct their mayhem on September 11, and still don’t. We confine ourselves by treating them as conventional prisoners because we are too civilized to do what they deserve. As a result, they sleep well while we worry if we’ll ever be safe again…and if their showers are warm enough.

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