April 06, 2008

Dropping the Myth of Reciprocity

In an April 4 editorial, the NY Times editorial board writes of John C. Yoo's un-American memorandum justifying torture by the US military:

His primary argument, in which he reaches back to 19th-century legal opinions justifying the execution of Indians who rejected the reservation, is that the laws didn’t apply to Mr. Bush because he is commander in chief. He cited an earlier opinion from Bush administration lawyers that Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners were not covered by the Geneva Conventions — a decision that put every captured American soldier at grave risk.

Now, Yoo's opinion was contrary to the laws and traditions of our country. And it did place American soldiers at risk. It placed American soldiers at risk because the perception that we used torture was a prime mover of Iraqi nationalist support of the insurgency.

It created the sea among which Iraqi guerrillas could swim.

However, good treatment of Al Qaeda or other prisoners will not result in reciprocity among our prisoners. Non-state actors in general, and Islamist ones in particular have demonstrated little if no propensity for the good treatment of prisoners regardless of how we treat their own.

Outrage is the right sentiment for the NY Times to be expressing in this case. But to be taken seriously on issues of national security, the newspaper of record ought look to the warfare of the 21st century rather than an outdated model from the last.

Captured American soldiers will be at grave risk for the foreseeable future due to the nature of their captors not the content of their memorandums.