- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Over the past month, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been working on a plan to provide amnesty for some Iraqis who have taken up arms against coalition forces and Iraqi security personnel since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. While details of the plan are being hashed out, congressional Democrats have seized on the issue as an opportunity to demonstrate that they are — really — tough on terror. So, on Sunday talk shows, viewers were treated to hyperbole from Sens. Harry Reid and Carl Levin, who suggested that Mr. Bush and the Iraqi government are going soft on terrorists who target American troops.

Last week the Senate voted 79 to 19 in favor of an amendment introduced by Bill Nelson of Florida and Robert Menendez of New Jersey opposing amnesty for Iraqi insurgents who fought against the United States. All 19 opponents of the Menendez-Nelson amendment were Republicans, including conservative stalwarts such as Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Jon Kyl of Arizona, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John Cornyn of Texas. We think the opponents have it right.

For one thing, it would hardly be unprecedented to have people who opposed the United States on the battlefield — including those who fought against and killed American soldiers — going unprosecuted. During World War II, for example, senior German and Japanese officials were tried and executed for committing war crimes. But the overwhelming majority of German and Japanese soldiers were not prosecuted — regardless of whether they had killed Allied soldiers in combat. Similar points can be made about the aftermath of the Civil War, in which individual Confederate soldiers were by and large not prosecuted. Achieving national unity and reconciliation was deemed a higher priority than the idea of holding each soldier accountable for each Union battlefield death.

Similarly, it makes little sense to demand, as some Democrats seem to want, that the elected Iraqi government treat every Iraqi who took up arms against the coalition as if they were war criminals. In determining whether amnesty makes sense, Dan Senor, a former Bush administration adviser in Iraq, writing for National Review Online suggests some questions that need to be asked, including: What will be the reaction of the overwhelming majority of Iraqi Sunnis who chose not to participate in the insurgency? Will they resent enemies of democracy being rewarded for their violence, or will they view it as a constructive effort to end the violence? How would the Shi’ites and Kurds react to amnesty for the Sunni militias who have been attacking them? Would pro-democratic forces elsewhere in the region feel abandoned by an olive branch to such people? Would neighboring autocrats who have backed the insurrection in Iraq take such conciliatory gestures as signs of weakness or strength? What can individual insurgent leaders actually deliver in terms of halting the violence?

This much is certain: Finding the answers to Mr. Senor’s thoughtful questions will be a lot more useful than listening to posturing politicians like Messrs. Levin and Reid.

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