- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2002

American treatment of captured Taliban and al Qaeda fighters at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has provoked a burst of criticism of America from political activists and allies, criticism more severe than any since the war began. Coming from many "human rights" organizations and some of our European allies, the criticism was severe enough to ruffle Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at his Tuesday press briefing. Mr. Rumsfeld had every right to be ruffled. There is no evidence of mistreatment of these prisoners. But facts, he should know, will not quiet the European Union's mincing ministers, who built their careers on criticizing the United States.
Col. Terry Carrico, commander of Camp X-Ray, is doing exactly the right things in detaining, housing and interrogating some of the world's most determined killers, even providing prayer mats, Arabic-language signs pointing them in the direction of Mecca for their frequent prayers, and feeding them Fruit Loops, bagels and cream cheese for breakfast. The photographs cited as evidence of mistreatment were taken right after one group of prisoners was unloaded from the aircraft bringing them from Afghanistan. The prisoners were shackled and outfitted with taped-over goggles, which are usual precautions when moving prisoners. Many wore surgical masks, to protect their captors (and each other) from the tuberculosis many prisoners suffer. All wore heavy clothes for warmth. Anyone who has flown on a military transport for more than a few minutes can tell you that heavy clothes aren't a burden.
The critics beginning with EU foreign policy boss Javier Solana and the Dutch and German governments have the same agenda. They want these prisoners to be declared prisoners of war. But al Qaeda terrorists are not prisoners of war, according to authorities on the Geneva Convention and the law of armed conflict. These men did not wear uniforms or other distinguishing badges or indications of rank. They fought as unlawful combatants and are not entitled to the immunities soldiers are. The status of the Taliban is more complicated, but questionable at best.
The critics should reconsider their demands. No terrorists have, so far, been granted the status of soldier. To grant them that status legitimizes their acts of terror. Soldiers, under the laws of war, cannot be tried for acts of war, such as killing opposing soldiers. Unlawful combatants terrorists can. Giving the prisoners this status would prevent us from punishing them as terrorists, as they deserve. The prisoners, who apparently include more than one high-ranking al Qaeda commander, likely have direct involvement in the attacks of September 11 or others here and abroad. We should treat them humanely, as we are and will continue to do. But we must question them and determine the complicity each one may have in past acts of terror and plans for future terror. Until that determination is made, we can't know whether they should be tried and punished or released and repatriated.
The critics who demand POW status for these prisoners would risk too much. If terrorists can expect that status when caught, they risk very little. No one, not even our oh-so-delicate allies, has any business easing the personal risk of terrorists.
So shut up, we explain.

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