Thoughtful political debate is what Peach Pundit is all about and as hard as it may be to comprehend, Front Page Posters here disagree from time to time. Given the events of last week and the ongoing debate about how to deal with terror suspects captured here in the United States, we thought it would be beneficial to have such a debate here on the front page. The political combatants today are Yours Truly and George Chidi. Below is George’s offering. To read the opposing viewpoint click here. – Buzz
The legal term “enemy combatant” is an artful turn of phrase, a bit of the emotionally sanitized Orwellian newspeak that belongs right up there with “convenience charges” when buying concert tickets and “collateral damage” to describe dead people we probably didn’t want to kill.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as enemy combatant is largely a thought experiment at this point. The Obama administration abandoned the use of the term in 2009, and for good reason: it’s a moral and legal quagmire without a whole lot of upside.
What benefit, exactly, do we get from calling Tsarnaev an enemy combatant? We can hold him incommunicado for quite a while on garden-variety terrorism charges – there’s no meaningful threat of him getting a secret message out to possible co-conspirators. Can we question him? Sure. We already are, and we’ve even temporarily invoked the public safety exception to avoid issuing a Miranda warning first. Apparently, he’s answering by writing; it seems that he got hit in the throat during the shootout and can’t speak.
Let us speak honestly then about what an enemy combatant is, in Tsarnaev’s case: an American citizen that some might prefer not to grant either the constitutional rights of a criminal at trial or those of a prisoner of war. It’s a way for us to evade our legal and moral obligations in the name of “security.”
And let us speak openly about what it some would like the term enemy combatant to mean: “Enhanced interrogation techniques,” which is more newspeak for torture. Once you strip the veneer of necessity from the arguments, the fervor for the enemy combatant label comes down to the hindbrain urge to punish the bastard for what he did, now. Make him sit in “stress positions,” which is even more newspeak for torture. Waterboard a man with a bullet in his throat. Because, you know, maybe he knows something. Never mind that he probably couldn’t cry out a name while being soaked.
We should probably be confident in being able to convict him on terror charges right now, given the evidence, but we may just detonate our own case if he’s declared an enemy combatant. We held dirty bombing plotter and American citizen Jose Padilla as an enemy combatant for three years. When the government finally charged him with a crime, the charges had nothing at all to do with the bomb plot, in order to evade questions of constitutional legality.
I grew up in Massachusetts. I’ve walked Boyleston Street more times than I can count. I’ve stood on the very spot the bomb exploded. I’ve thrown empty coffee cups into the trash can on the sidewalk there. And I can imagine the outcry there three years from now if Tsarnaev is charged with everything except the actual bombing because we decided it was more important to waterboard him than try him.
We want the country to be safe. But we should be unwilling to trade another gallon of real freedom for a thimbleful of illusory security. We have no reason to believe what we might get in intelligence value is what we will certainly sacrifice in national honor. It is the mark of brave, free men to be able to see this horror, bind our wounded, spit on the shrapnel and carry on without fear and with our constitution intact.