The lost war, and a mad debate

The Americans are unwilling to believe that Afghanistan is a lost cause, and only God can throw light on their infatuation with setting up “democratic” regimes in countries that don’t believe in the idea. One suspects though that it has more to do with venal politics than anything else. For that reason alone, they won’t agree with this article

If the goal is to establish a stable government to fill the vacuum created by our ousting of the Taliban and al-Qaida, we’ve done quite a job. Most Americans can accept a Marine’s risking life and limb to safeguard our freedoms. But when that Marine is protector of a corrupt and depraved foreign parliament—one that recently legalized marital rape and demands women ask permission from male relatives to leave their homes—it is not a victory worth celebrating.

You know, idealism regarding Afghanistan’s future begins to dissipate the first time we read the words “why don’t we negotiate with the moderate Taliban?”

But while strict Shariah law is acceptable, illicit drugs are not. If most of us agree that America has no business foisting its notions of wrong and right on other cultures, why, then, did we spend hundreds of millions of dollars eradicating poppy crops (one of the only productive crops of the Afghan farmers)? Was it because our own war on drugs has gone so splendidly?

Well, as they say, its their funeral. If only that were true, though.

Vir Sanghvi is confused about rights and rules of civilized conduct. He apparently believes in the dictum “wherever you are, do as the Americans do”-

Here is a hypothetical question. You are the head of a counter-terrorist force in Bombay. It is 26/11. Terrorists are spreading havoc in the city. You don’t know how many of them there are or what they are planning. But thanks to the sacrifices of a few brave policemen, Ajmal Kasab arrives in your custody.

You ask him where his fellow terrorists are and what they have planned. He laughs in your face.

What do you now do? These are your options:

a) You advise him of his rights and let him phone his lawyer.

b) You settle down for a sustained interrogation knowing that eventually he will slip up and reveal something.

c) You pull out his fingernails till he tells you exactly how many terrorists there are, what locations have been targeted and where their orders are coming from.

How many times does one have to repeat it? “Due process” is not meant to protect convicted criminals, it is meant to protect ordinary people, or mere accused, from arbitrary action. So, no. You are not allowed to pull out fingernails of people unless they are convicted, and only if pulling out fingernails is a legitimate form of punishment. A “ticking time bomb” scenario is not an argument against civilized behavior. If one is unwilling to live with this, why not simply stone to death anyone accused of anything at all instead of pretending to be a civilized people who believe in the rule of law?

He writes further-

And how do you balance the possibility of saving hundreds of lives (our 26/11 example) with the human rights of a single terrorist?

There are no easy answers. As a liberal, I am opposed to encounters and horrified by the cavalier attitude displayed by our security services towards torture. But equally, I realise that the battle against terrorism often leaves policemen and soldiers with no choice but to sacrifice the human rights of terrorists.

Define a terrorist. A journalist writing a column in a newspaper? Or anyone who the US president “thinks” is one. How about someone who doesn’t agree with you? Since Sanghvi criticizes western double standards on human rights issues, and at the same time doesn’t want to take an absolute stand either, why not simply adopt the Yoo doctrine?

In an October 2001 memo, Yoo and OLC lawyer Robert Delahunty suggested that if the military does something, even something that looks like police work, it is ipso facto a military operation, not a criminal investigation. “Our forces,” they said, “must be free to ‘seize’ enemy personnel or ‘search’ enemy quarters, papers and messages without having to show ‘probable cause’ to a neutral magistrate, and even without having to demonstrate that their actions were constitutionally ‘reasonable.'”

As Yoo sees it, if the Defense Department searches Americans’ homes, reads their mail, or listens to their phone calls, it is not carrying out an investigation; it is waging the War on Terror. “If the government’s heightened interest in self-defense justifies the use of deadly force,” Yoo wrote in a September 2001 memo, “then it certainly would also justify warrantless searches.”

Likewise, according to Yoo, the military must be free to indefinitely detain anyone suspected of involvement with terrorism, including U.S. citizens arrested on U.S. soil, and neither Congress nor the courts have any business imposing limits on such detentions or dictating how the prisoners should be treated. In a gratuitous and therefore revealing aside, Yoo and Delahunty suggested that censorship aimed at defeating terrorism would be legal too, since “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.”

Yes, the rules of war are not the same as those applicable in normal times. But if one declares a war, everyone on the battlefield is fair game. If a country wants to wage a war against terror, or insurgency, or whatever, it should declare the relevant territory to be a battle field where normal rules of conduct don’t apply. Then people in such a “war zone” are no longer limited by the “rule of law,” just like the military isn’t. One can’t have one’s cake and eat it too, disarm civilians, subject them to the rule of law, and fight a war against them at the same time.

Jeff Tucker at the Mises blog had a post which quoted the late American conservative thinker William Buckley. The piece is strangely applicable here. Buckley’s words-

As to the effect that a program of militant action, aimed at the destruction of the Soviets, would have on freedom in this country, the liberation conservative has no smooth words to disguise the fact that only the State can direct a war, or execute a foreign policy. To some extent, then, any totalitarian and imperialistic power which grows to the point where it must be reckoned with by free countries, wins at least a partial victory. For to beat the Soviet Union we must, to an extent, imitate the Soviet Union. We must, for example, conscript an army of sorts, and conscription entails the supreme denial of individual freedom. We must tax the people to support that army, and to support the bureaucracy without which, alas, a nation cannot mobilize….

Two generations of conscription would almost surely lead to universal and perpetual military training. And two generations of steeply progressive and exhaustive taxation, and of a mammoth bureaucracy, would mean that readjustment to private property and limited government would be nothing short of revolutionary.

It is a pity that yet one more difference will divide the waning conservative movement in the United States. But the issue is there, and ultimately it will separate us.

The title of the post? “To Fight the Total State, We Must Become a Total State.”

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  • tomasnordlander  On September 6, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    We would like to invite you to participate in our Human Rights essay competition. Submission Deadline 31 of September. On our web site , you find information on the competition (such as Rules; Regulations; Prizes; Important dates; etc.) Should you have further questions or queries, do not hesitate to contact us.

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    Dr Tomas Eric Nordlander

  • Sauvik Chakraverti  On September 8, 2009 at 7:43 am

    Do read Gautam Adhikari’s column urging the US to keep on warring in Afghanistan, published in the Times of India yesterday. Adhikari has for long been one of the editors of the ToI who spends much of his time in the US.

    • Aristotle The Geek  On September 8, 2009 at 5:14 pm

      The Times. One never knows who is/ are, or what role the editor plays on the paper. Adhikari, I believe was a consulting editor/ editorial consultant for the TOI.

      I did read the piece, and I don’t think the US staying in Afghanistan is going to help anyone in the geopolitical sense, particularly India. Instead of looking for Osama, the US began to dream of installing a pliable democratic regime both here and in Iraq. That is easier said than done. If that is the definition of success, the “war on terror” is unwinnable. Sooner or later the US will have to leave. Better now than 10000 body bags later. One day, US foreign policy, perpetually misguided that it is, will be the death of us all.

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