Terrorists should be treated as prisoners of war
Should those suspected of or convicted for terrorist offences receive the same protections as those which apply to prisoners of war?
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Terrorists are engaged in a war like any other: they unite to undertake military action in favour of...
Terrorists are engaged in a war like any other: they unite to undertake military action in favour of a specific cause. The fact that they do not represent one individual nation and that they are not at war with a specific list of states does not undermine this: Al Qaeda, for example, has clear goals including eliminating American influence within Muslim nations, destroying Israel and re-establishing the Caliphate. The fact that we may not views these causes as worthy or legitimate is irrelevant: we do not assess the merits or legitimacy of a conflict between states before deciding whether to apply the Geneva Convention. It should therefore apply equally to soldiers and terrorists.
Terrorists are not engaged in a war. Their actions are aimed at destruction of civil society and of nations across the globe. Furthermore, the Geneva Convention has no role to play here. It exists to control wars between nations in a way which respects human dignity and minimises long-term harm. Wars between nations have a foreseeable end, and the Convention is an important means of aiding reconciliation and cooperation in the future: it is harder to build a relationship with a state which has brutally tortured your soldiers upon capture. However, a war against terrorists will often have no end: it is inconceivable, for example, either that Al Qaeda will successfully achieve the reestablishment of the Caliphate or that the West will quash all terrorist activity. Reconciliation and future cooperation are meaningless here.
Even if we think the terrorist cause is illegitimate we have a moral duty to respect a basic level o...
Even if we think the terrorist cause is illegitimate we have a moral duty to respect a basic level of humanity. There are certain acts, such as torture, to which no individual should be subjected, regardless of their own behaviour. The Geneva Convention is about universal respect for human dignity. Civilised nations can and should be expected to act in a humane manner.
There is no moral duty to respect the dignity of these individuals. States should do whatever possible to protect their own citizens. The Geneva Convention is about reciprocity: it is in the interest of our own citizens to treat enemy combatants is a humane manner so that if our soldiers are caught they will receive similar treatment. There can be no guarantee of reciprocity from ‘terrorists’ as a whole, or even specific terrorist groups given the cellular nature of the organisations and the disparate nature of the command structures. Furthermore, terrorists specifically use poor treatment of hostages as a tool in their campaign. Given this, it is in the interests of our own citizens to use whatever means possible to fight terrorism; compliance with the Geneva Convention undermines this.
Poor treatment affirms terrorist ideology: regardless of what is morally right, it would be benefici...
Poor treatment affirms terrorist ideology: regardless of what is morally right, it would be beneficial to treat terrorists in the ways prescribed by the Convention. Terrorist ideology is often predicated on the behaviour of those countries against which it is targeted. Treating captured terrorists or terror suspects in a way that ignores their human dignity, only reinforces perceptions of the West. \
Treating captured terrorists well would not aid the war on terror. Most of the terrorism encountered today aims to destabilise states for ideological reasons. Treating captives well will not stop Al Qaeda wanting to re-establish the Caliphate and so will not remove the ideological reasons for attacking certain states.
Poor treatment acts as a recruitment tool: stories of Guatanemo Bay or Abu Ghraib fuel terrorist pro...
Poor treatment acts as a recruitment tool: stories of Guatanemo Bay or Abu Ghraib fuel terrorist propaganda and act as a useful recruitment tool. Members of Islamic groups, who were initially uncertain about the legitimacy of terrorist activities may be sufficiently horrified by acts of torture of sexual humiliation that they are more easily converted to these extreme views. In addition, such behaviour can be used to justify terrorist actions to less radicalised members of certain communities.
Poor treatment is not a significant recruitment tool: whilst some people may be encouraged to join terrorist groups as a result of such behaviour, those who are outraged by human rights abuses in this context should be equally concerned about the violation of human rights which occurs when a terrorist detonates a bomb, or flies into a building, killing large numbers of innocent civilians. The ideology invoked exists independently of the way in which suspects are treated, as discussed above, and indoctrination with such beliefs is the real tool in the recruitment process.
Harsh interrogation of captives is rarely effective. Those who are prepared to die to advance their...
Harsh interrogation of captives is rarely effective. Those who are prepared to die to advance their cause are unlikely to yield information, no matter how much they are threatened or tortured. Where captives do provide information, they often state simply what they think that the interrogators want to hear, rather than anything that is true. In addition, given the cellular nature of many terrorist organisations, those captured often have very little useful information to begin with. Even if they have been involved in a plot, they may only have information about a very small part of that plot.
Compliance with the Geneva Convention does undermine our ability to get valuable information: the Convention not only prohibits torture, but also mental coercion, threats, insults or disadvantageous treatment in the pursuit of intelligence. Each form of interrogation is valuable in certain circumstances. For example, torture may not be effective to collect evidence about a plot from scratch, but it may be an effective means of forcing suspects to disclose one or two specific details. Disadvantageous treatment or threats may also provide useful incentives for suspects, particularly those concerned about the welfare of their families. In a ticking bomb scenario, a state which fails to take such actions is arguably responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians which occur as a result.
It might be desirable to treat detainees as criminal suspects and put them through a trial process, ...
It might be desirable to treat detainees as criminal suspects and put them through a trial process, sentencing those against whom credible evidence exists and releasing the rest, but this has not happened. Instead detainees in Guantanamo and elsewhere are now in legal limbo with little prospect of ever getting out. Giving them prisoner of war status is a much better solution. As the terrorist threat recedes in individual countries (e.g. Saudi Arabia), hostilities can be judged to have finished and their prisoners can be repatriated and rehabilitated into society.
Prisoners of war can be detained for the duration of hostilities, and are only entitled to return home at the end of the war. Given the open-ended nature of the war on terror, it is very likely that treating terrorist detainees as POWs will mean they are never released. Better instead to treat them as criminals accused of terrorist offences, and to put them through a proper trial process.
What do you think?