Deterrent force of prison camp is all that militants understand

Ted Lapkin

New Zealand Herald – 23 February 2006

It is a simple truth of human nature that those who reward anti-social behaviour will end up getting more of it. The feebler the penalty paid for past atrocities, the flimsier the deterrent against future acts of barbarity.

This principle must surely guide us in our dealings with jihadist Islam, where experience dictates that the stick is a far more appropriate tool than the carrot. Those who argue for a softer and gentler approach towards al-Qaeda terrorism are engaged in an enterprise of fools. To advocate the closure of Guantanamo Bay is to provide passive encouragement for those who plot the next suicide bombing.

Radical Islam does not recognise the concepts of compromise, comity or conciliation. The only language understood by Palestinian jihadists in Ramallah and their Iraqi counterparts in Fallujah is the violent dialect of total victory or total vanquishment.

But the self-righteous antics of the anti-war Left are providing sorely needed aid and comfort to the holy warriors of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda network.

The existence of debate over the fate of al-Qaeda prisoners will earn Western society no brownie points with Osama bin Laden. Jihadist Islam views the voices of democratic dissent as evidence of an effete and decaying culture that has lost the will to defend itself. Any evidence of Western irresolution only tends to buttress al-Qaeda’s resolve.

The savage domestic criticism of Bush Administration policies has convinced the jihadists that they must simply hang on a bit longer until the infidels’ morale finally cracks.

Such delusions of al-Qaeda grandeur are dangerous, not because radical Islam has any real chance to triumph over the democratic world. But these hallucinations serve to buttress enemy morale, thus prolonging the terrorist conflict that is being waged against us. The anti-war ideologues who encourage the jihadists to place their trust in Western weakness bear substantial responsibility for the unnecessary perpetuation of this carnage.

The closure of Guantanamo’s Camp Delta would send precisely the wrong signal on both the macro and the micro levels. From the grand strategic perspective, such a move would signal that the US could be successfully pressured to surrender its national security interests. The ululations of jihadist jubilation that would echo from rooftops throughout the Islamic world would attract legions of new followers to the radical cause.

On an individual level, each of those recruits would feel much more eager to volunteer in a world without Gitmo than in an environment where Camp Delta was still operational. The Geneva Conventions limited the scope of their protections solely to legal combatants for good reason: the drafters of those treaties wanted to encourage lawful warmaking and to discourage war crimes.

David Hicks and his fellow detainees were captured in an active combat theatre while fighting for a movement that violates every tenet of international law. No clause of the Geneva Conventions requires the application of that treaty’s terms to irregular jihadists who see the beheading of hostages as a legitimate battle tactic.

We must be tough on the war criminals of today to dissuade the war criminals of tomorrow. Only thus do we stand any chance of deterring the next Beslan massacre, London train bombing or 9/11.

And to this end we must retain a powerful weapon in our deterrent arsenal: the promise that those who fight as illegal combatants will wind up in Guantanamo rather than enjoying prisoner of war commissary privileges. If the prospect of being tried before a military commission disheartens even a single potential al Qaeda recruit, then the Bush Administration’s policy is well justified.

* Ted Lapkin is Director of Policy Analysis at the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council.