They Don't Get It: "Enemy Combatant" = Terrorist Win

With the oh-so-welcome arrest of apparent terrorist bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev, and the killing of his brother/accomplice, some Republican senators are perversely urging a policy that would award the terrorists their greatest possible victory.  They urge that Tsarnaev be declared an “enemy combatant” in order to allow the use of summary legal procedures against him, and to deny him a wide range of legal and constitutional rights.

Dzokhar Tsarnaev, in better times

Dzokhar Tsarnaev, in better times

Among the arguments against this unwise policy are:

  • What, exactly, is the “enemy” of which the Tsarnaev brothers were (or are) a part?  Perhaps the senators have access to persuasive evidence that they were part of some foreign intrigue, but it certainly seems that these were a couple of thugs who had no getaway plan other than to carjack some guy and take his credit card to the ATM.   These are not hallmarks of an “enemy.”  They surely are part of the universal yet unofficial league of bad, violent and/or demented persons — as is every mugger in America.  Are they all to be enemy combatants?
  • Do we call them “enemy combatants” because they are foreign-born and inspired by non-American and anti-American rhetoric?  Such a lapse into xenophobia denies our proud history as a nation of immigrants.  It is also an increasingly stupid political move in a nation that desperately wants a rational immigration policy.  Indeed, exactly such lapses into xenophobia contributed mightily to recent Republican election failures.
  • Do we really think our legal system is unable to manage a guy who was caught red-handed in the midst of so much illegal activity?  We managed to handle the Beltway snipers (John Muhammed and Lee Malvo) just fine without declaring them enemy combatants; those guys killed ten people and completely terrorized a major metropolitan area that happened to be the Nation’s Capital.  I believe in our legal system.  I wish these senators did, too.
  • With the eyes of the world upon us, do we propose to abandon the ideals that we want to think define us as a nation?  We have done a good deal of that over the last twelve years, for reasons that are good and not-so-good.  The ugly fact is that an open society cannot prevent bad people from doing bad things.  A closed society like China and Soviet Russia can attempt to do that, but the result is a hideous concentration of power which inevitably corrupts those wielding such power and oppresses an entire society.  We believe the individual has rights.  Every individual, no matter how despicable.

It can sound trite, but it isn’t.  If we give up our ideals to fight terrorism, the terrorists win.

Leave a Comment