- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2005

Those on Capitol Hill and elsewhere who complained of U.S. policy on the detention of enemy combatants got a wake-up call this week. It seems one of the Iraqi men who bombed three Jordanian hotels Nov. 11, killing 57 people, may have been in U.S. custody in Iraq for a time but was released.

The U.S. military has confirmed that it picked up a man named Safaa Mohammed Ali in November 2004 and held him two weeks. When authorities could find no reason to keep the man, they let him go. Lt. Col. Barry Johnson told reporters, “A review of the circumstances of his capture by the unit determined there was no compelling evidence that he was a threat to the security of Iraq, and he was therefore released.”

Though officials can’t confirm the detainee was the same man as the bomber, despite identical names, his relatives in Fallujah say he was. Indeed, all the bombers, including a fourth who was unsuccessful, a woman whose device did not detonate, are from the Fallujah area.

The woman, now held and questioned by Jordanian security, is providing ample evidence these terrorists were intimately involved in the Iraqi insurgency led by Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordan-born terrorist responsible for thousands of Iraqi and American deaths.

It’s impossible to know if the attacks in Jordan could have been prevented had the U.S. got more information from the man they held last year. But one thing is certain: It is dangerous to treat enemy combatants and suspected terrorists like common criminals deserving all the U.S. judicial system’s protections.

The presumption of innocence is important in the criminal context — indeed, it is a foundation of our legal system. But in a war in which our enemy doesn’t wear uniforms, doesn’t fight under a foreign flag, and targets civilians as a primary strategy, we cannot afford to confer on him the same rights and protections we grant ordinary criminals or even military adversaries in a traditional conflict.

That is not to say we should adopt the tactics of our enemies — and we don’t. No one suggests if Zarqawi blows up women and children or tortures and beheads his victims, we should do likewise. We are morally superior to our enemy and must remain so. But that doesn’t mean we must confer on our enemies rights to which they have no legal, much less, moral claim — for example, formally extending Geneva Conventions to those we capture. Short of torture, which President Bush has made clear we will not use, we should be free to hold suspected terrorists captured overseas as long as necessary and to use harsh techniques to elicit information.

Instead of backing the administration, however, Congress shows no stomach for what’s necessary. This week, the Senate unanimously passed a defense policy bill that incorporated language first proposed by Sen. John McCain for strict guidelines on interrogating detainees, as well as appeals rights for some defendants convicted by military tribunals.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, argued such measures were needed because “This is a war of values,” which we can win, “without sacrificing our values.” Mr. Graham’s comments made for a nice sound bite but ignore the dirty reality on the ground.

Zarqawi and his followers won’t be dissuaded from blowing up more wedding parties or putting improvised explosive devices into children’s toys because we suddenly start reading detainees their Miranda rights and ensuring they’re not deprived of sleep or kept in isolation too long.

And it’s naive to think Muslim fanatics would love us — or even ignore us — if only we left Iraq.

This war will continue until one side wins. Congress better get serious to make sure it is not the jihadists.

Linda Chavez is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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