Not a “terror suspect”

Michael Melia of the Associated Press reports today that:

A U.S. military tribunal convening Monday at Guantanamo will hear challenges from attorneys for a Canadian terror suspect accused of killing an American soldier when he was 15 — an age they say should disqualify him from trial.

Lawyers for Toronto-born Omar Khadr, who is now 21, argue in a motion on the hearings’ agenda that the judge would be the first in Western history to preside over a trial for war crimes allegedly committed by a child. …

Khadr is accused of hurling the grenade that killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, a Special Forces commando, during a July 2002 firefight at an al-Qaida compound in Afghanistan.

Set aside the whole question of Khadr’s age here. Just consider that he is, in the above reports and elsewhere, being referred to as a “terror suspect.” And just what act of “terrorism” is he accused of committing? He threw a grenade during a firefight.

This is not complicated. Throwing a grenade at an opposing soldier during a firefight is not “terrorism.” That’s war.

(Lying troll prophylactic: Spare me the feigned outrage of pretending that this simple tautology is somehow a celebration or defense of Khadr. Nor do you or could you possibly really believe that this self-evident statement is in any way disrespectful of Khadr’s victim, the late Sgt. Speer. He was a soldier and he died in battle. Pretending that he wasn’t and that he didn’t — pretending, as this tribunal is doing, that he was not a soldier at all, but merely a victim of violent crime — strikes me as immensely disrespectful.)

Khadr is accused of fighting against American soldiers in battle. That would make him the enemy. It would make him a Bad Guy. But it would not, by any stretch, make him a terrorist. That’s not what “terrorist” means, nor is it something that “terrorist” can be twisted into meaning. Omar Khadr is not a terror suspect. He is either a prisoner of war or else he falls into the dubious category of “unlawful enemy combatant,” but the tribunal is not accusing him of committing an act of terrorism so let’s stop calling him a “terror suspect.”

This distinction matters. A grenade in a marketplace is terrorism. A grenade in a firefight is combat. To assert that throwing a grenade during battle is criminal is to assert that all war is a war crime and every soldier is a criminal. I cannot see any way of eliminating that distinction for the enemy without also eliminating it for ourselves and for our allies. That is not something we want to do.

And yet we’re already beginning to do just that. This post — like every post that even hints at the existence of any such rules or distinctions or criteria — will inevitably produce the complaint that I am arguing that America must fight “with one hand tied behind our back.” That phrase — “I refuse to fight with one hand tied behind my back!” — is apparently taken from Page 1 of The Nihilist’s Rulebook. (Nihilists, of course, shouldn’t have a rulebook, but that’s another distinction they’re proud not to understand.)

  • Caravelle

    Lauren : And apparently, the idea that any of the people thusly arrested might have been involved with terrorist activity in some way, even if it was only coincidental that they were arrested, is so offensive as to induce nausea.
    Actually I did read quite a lot of the thread and I understand there might be some misunderstanding on both sides. This doesn’t answer the question of why you feel the fact that there may be guilty people in Guantanamo is relevant to anything. Or is it just that you want to prove Jesu wrong ? (which is a futile excercise I’m afraid).
    My two cents is that it isn’t the bald statement “there are guilty people in Guantanamo” that makes people puke, but the fact that there is no reason to make that statement unless you think it’s relevant. And the only reason one might think it’s relevant is if one is using that as justification for whatever’s going on over there.
    EDIT : after a search I found what appears to be the source of the whole debate :
    Lauren: First, the Bush administration threw some people into the oubliette. (Thank you for introducing me to this word! I’m going to start using it in conversation at all possible opportunities, as soon as I figure out how to pronounce it.) Whether they were legitimate terrorists or not is an important question that I hope we someday have the answer to, though I suspect we never will.
    Jesu : Oh, for crying out loud. We do have the answer to that question. Well, we already do for a large number of the people that the Bush administration sent to Guantanamo Bay, and there’s no reason to suppose that we won’t someday also have the answer for the remainder of the people that the Bush administration sent there. It’s just not an answer that the Bush administration is prepared to accept, which is why they’re still there.

    Given that and your previous posts I would assume that indeed, you don’t believe the presence or not of terrorists justifies Guantanamo, and that you’re just trying to call Jesu on a bit of hyperbole (or statement that’s technically incorrect but in an irrelevant way, or statement that’s debatable but again totally irrelevant, whatever rocks your boat) which is 1) ridiculous when it goes on for so long and 2) futile because this is Jesu we’re talking about.
    That said, I think Jesu does have a point in using the trials that have happened as evidence there aren’t guilty people there : after all, one would expect the administration to bring to trial the people who were most likely to be found guilty. It’s not proof because the administration doesn’t necessarily do what one might expect, but it’s still a decent point.

  • bulbul

    “Given a large enough sample of prisoners, and assuming that not all cops are crooked, some of the prisoners will be guilty.”
    Jesu and bulbul,
    I still don’t understand, what is it about this statement you find so repugnant?

    What Jesu said.
    Also, this statement of yours espouses the same philosophy as the statement “Let them kill all, God will sort them out” by the papal legate Arnaud-Amaury pronounced during the Albingensian Crusade and Soviet era philosophy of filling quotas for gulags regardless of who was guilty or not. It shows a blatant disregard for due process (again, what Jesu said) and an appalling lack of empathy.
    And finally, your statement as I quoted it above is misleading. Initially, we were talking about Guantanamo prisoners and CIA, NOT any prisoners and especially NOT COPS. Cops arrest people based on warrants issued by judges upon evidence of probable cause. The Guantanamo prisoners were rounded up by the military based on pretty arbitrary criteria. Often the wrong name or a simple unsubstantiated accusation of being a Talib or a member of al-Qa’ida made by an Afghani ally would be enough to get a person a one-way ticket to Guantanamo.
    See the fucking difference?

  • Caravelle

    I mean, it’s like if I say “some Blacks are stupider than most Whites”. I’m pretty sure it’s perfectly true. However, people could be forgiven for thinking I’m a racist for making that point, because what reason would I have for doing it if I weren’t ?
    And then if an outraged non-racist answers “you’re wrong !” you’ve got the makings of a very, very stupid flamewar. Especially if both sides basically agree, but one’s arguing for some technicality while the other’s arguing about a larger inferred position. Which may or may not be the case here.

  • hapax

    But for evil on an institutional scale – unjust wars, imprisonment without trial, etc. – then the problem is not merely the individuals doing the act, the problem is the whole system. At that point, blame spreads wider, because the individuals within the system who make the decisions and carry out the act can do so only because of the perepheral support provided. At that point, it becomes the responsibility of everyone involved to say “no, this is wrong” and to do nothing that can further the wrong.
    O-kay, show of hands. How many of us here have stopped using transportation that relies on Mideast oil? Stopped living in countries whose borders are protected, in whole or in part, by U.S. supported military forces? Stopped paying taxes to governments that accept and provide information and assistance to U.S. intelligence services?
    You want to paint with that broad of a brush, you’d better be willing to accept the backsplash.

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    Interesting, Hapax. You do seem to be taking the position that it’s better to be a “good German”.

  • ako

    O-kay, show of hands. How many of us here have stopped using transportation that relies on Mideast oil? Stopped living in countries whose borders are protected, in whole or in part, by U.S. supported military forces? Stopped paying taxes to governments that accept and provide information and assistance to U.S. intelligence services?
    You want to paint with that broad of a brush, you’d better be willing to accept the backsplash.

    I don’t see any denial of the backsplash. I think I have a degree of guilt in Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Air Force Base, and most current US foreign policy horrors, because I benefit from them, and there are limits to how much I’m willing to do to oppose them. I also think I have a degree of guilt with migrant farmworker abuse and pesticide overuse because I don’t put enough work into finding out where my food comes from, and sometimes buy conventional stuff over organic because it’s cheaper.
    I don’t see how calling it the responsibility of everyone involved carries an implied, “Except for me, because I’m better than that.”

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    One position: that everyone who has taken part in the abuses involved to get, bring, keep, and torture the extra-judicial prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Airbase, and other CIA black holes ought to be held responsible for doing so.
    Another position: That everyone who uses transportation that relies on Mideast oil: lives in countries whose borders are protected, in whole or in part, by U.S.-supported military forces: pays taxes to governments that accept and provide information and assistance to U.S. intelligence services: is as responsible for the abuses involved to get, bring, keep, and torture the extra-judicial prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Airbase, and other CIA black holes.
    Hapax appears to be arguing that because the second position involves PETA-like standards of morality, the first position is unworkable. This is a degree of straw-manning that surprises me, coming from Hapax.

  • Anonymous

    Another position: That everyone who uses transportation that relies on Mideast oil: lives in countries whose borders are protected, in whole or in part, by U.S.-supported military forces: pays taxes to governments that accept and provide information and assistance to U.S. intelligence services: is as responsible for the abuses involved to get, bring, keep, and torture the extra-judicial prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Airbase, and other CIA black holes.
    Is it everyone being as responsible, or everyone having some degree of responsibility? Because benefiting from it, accepting those benefits, and not be willing to go beyond your own comfort zone to stop it implies a degree of responsibility. But nowhere near the same amount as driving a bus full of prisoners. And that’s not the same level of culpability as actually locking them in cages, setting dogs on them, or forcing them to stay in painful positions for hours on end. There isn’t a single universal level of guilt that makes bystanders exactly as bad as torturers.

  • ako

    That was me at 12:28.

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    ako: Because benefiting from it, accepting those benefits, and not be willing to go beyond your own comfort zone to stop it implies a degree of responsibility. But nowhere near the same amount as driving a bus full of prisoners. And that’s not the same level of culpability as actually locking them in cages, setting dogs on them, or forcing them to stay in painful positions for hours on end. There isn’t a single universal level of guilt that makes bystanders exactly as bad as torturers.
    I agree. That was, in fact, my point. Hapax’s argument appears to be that it’s all the same thing and all equally absurd to try to hold anyone responsible for anything.

  • hapax

    Jesu: I agree. That was, in fact, my point. Hapax’s argument appears to be that it’s all the same thing and all equally absurd to try to hold anyone responsible for anything.
    Nice bit of straw-manning yourself. I was responding to Ursula, who has repeatedly argued that every member of the U.S. military and CIA was explicitly morally guilty of illegal rendition and torture, through “enabling” and “supporting the institution.” (A position, IIRC, you implicitly endorsed).
    I think it’s important to note that we can’t arbitrarily make the lines of responsibility stop with the people we don’t know and don’t like. This is EXACTLY the same line of argument that ends up with requiring all Muslims to repeatedly and vocally denounce their extremist nutjob co-religionists, or be judged guilty of Being Brown With a Funny Name.
    In contrast to your characterization, I in fact hold pretty much everybody responsible for everything. (Remember, I believe in Original Sin). But when you’re talking about war crimes, and legal repercussion, it’s very important to clarify who exactly did what, and just as important, what alternatives were available to them.
    You, of course, may feel free to translate that into my being a crypto-Nazi, if you prefer that to taking a good hard look in the mirror.

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    I was responding to Ursula, who has repeatedly argued that every member of the U.S. military and CIA was explicitly morally guilty of illegal rendition and torture, through “enabling” and “supporting the institution.”
    Really? Can you link to the comment(s) where Ursula makes that argument? Or at least name the thread where she “repeatedly” argued that? On this thread the argument she has made is that everyone involved in illegal rendition and torture, even at the lowest level of merely transporting the victims, is responsible for enabling and supporting illegal rendition and torture.

  • hapax

    Really? Can you link to the comment(s) where Ursula makes that argument?
    Sure. Start here and keep reading.

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    But when you’re talking about war crimes, and legal repercussion, it’s very important to clarify who exactly did what, and just as important, what alternatives were available to them.
    Indeed, what alternatives are available to a US soldier who is ordered to truss up prisoners with shackles, diapers, jumpsuits, and hoods, and load those prisoners on to a plane to a destination which the soldier may or may not (depends on the date) know is a prison camp which is being run unlawfully?
    Ursula points out – rightly – that these soldiers bear a responsibility, albeit a low-level one, for enabling and supporting the illegal rendition and torture. Their alternatives are few: they can refuse the order, and suffer whatever penalty their commanding officer imposes.
    It is unlikely to be anything like as bad as what will happen – what has already happened – to the victims, but the soldier who contemplates refusing will know that the whole military establishment is set up against him. He can’t be a “good apple” without suffering some kind of penalty: he is in a bad situation, in an environment that penalizes independent moral decisions: and his refusal, while morally right, won’t actually keep those victims from being loaded on to that plane and transported to whatever gulag is their destination.
    Curiously enough, Hapax, you were arguing earlier in the thread that most soldiers would refuse these kind of illegal orders. Curiously enough, you now appear to be arguing that not only would most soldiers not refuse, they can’t be blamed for not doing so.

  • hapax

    Y’know what, Jesu?
    F*ck you.
    I mean that sincerely.
    I have repeatedly and consistently argued that people who follow illegal orders, and even more so people who give them, should be held morally, legally, and every other way responsible for their reprehensible acts.
    I have repeatedly and consistently argued that people who are given an illegal or immoral order should refuse to obey it. I have stated that this is U.S. military policy, and I personally know several circumstances where it was followed. I also admitted that there are people who do NOT refuse to follow such orders; but I have also argued that that their failure to conform to official policy in no way excuses their reprehensible actions.
    I have repeatedly and consistently argued that people who belong to a system that supports those reprehensible acts — including me — should give good hard thought to their own degree of culpability. That culpability may or may not be mitigated by their ability to materially affect the situation. To be perfectly blunt, neither you nor I posting on an Internet comment thread about the crimes of G’tmo is going to do the people abused there one bit of good, and it is ludicrous for us to assume any degree of absolution for whatever guilt we bear in so doing.
    The one thing I have said that apparently sticks in your craw is that the mere act of putting on a U.S. military uniform in no way renders you responsible for the crimes of every one else who wears that uniform — a position which Ursula explicitly endorsed in the post I linked to.
    I don’t know why this bugs you so much. That’s between you and your therapist. But if you are prepared to accept that kind of guilt by association, you’d better be willing to accept everything it implies.

  • Jeff

    Caravelle: Actually I did read quite a lot of the thread and I understand there might be some misunderstanding on both sides.
    Fie! Fie I say! Shame on you for trying to inject a little sanity into one of the strangest flame-wars I’ve seen on Slacktivist!
    A question for Lauren:
    Was Abdul Razzaq Hekmati murdered? If so, who should be tried for his murder? (Please note that we don’t let guards mistreat — much less murder — one prisoner just because the prisoner in the next cell MIGHT be guilty.)

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    The one thing I have said that apparently sticks in your craw is that the mere act of putting on a U.S. military uniform in no way renders you responsible for the crimes of every one else who wears that uniform — a position which Ursula explicitly endorsed in the post I linked to.
    Actually, no. What Ursula said, in the post you linked to, was, in short form; “People who belong to a system that supports those reprehensible acts should give good hard thought to their own degree of culpability.”
    F*ck you.
    I mean that sincerely.

    I do not have sex with married women: but thank you for the sincere offer to give me pleasure, which I take as it was meant.

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    Okay, I apologize for my response to “F*ck you”, which was not calculated to cool down the argument.
    But, Hapax, can you honestly not see how bizarre it is that you say you think everyone ought to consider that they are to a degree culpable for being part of a system which supports those reprehensible acts – except everyone who is part of the US military? They, and they alone are exempt?

  • hapax

    Jesurgislac, the only thing I find bizarre is the strained interpretations you tease out of perfectly straightforward postings.
    I give up. Everybody in the world sucks, but you. You win.

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    Hapax, if you think it’s straightforward to say that everyone should consider themselves culpable, and then angrily deny that anyone should consider the US military culpable, I too give up.
    Judging by your contortions over not wanting to admit you’re pro-choice, you will take months to finally explain what you mean by this apparently bizarre thing.
    Judging by the blame that got flung around about the pro-choice thing, you will find it easier not to explain if you can assure yourself that it’s All Jesurgislac’s Fault.
    Fine.

  • Ursula L

    O-kay, show of hands. How many of us here have stopped using transportation that relies on Mideast oil? Stopped living in countries whose borders are protected, in whole or in part, by U.S. supported military forces? Stopped paying taxes to governments that accept and provide information and assistance to U.S. intelligence services?
    Well, it is not the only reason I went back to school, but I do consider it a benefit of going back to school that between my lower income and the deduction for my tuition, I have not actually paid federal income tax for several years (most of the Iraq war years) and have in fact absorbed government resources in a positive way (at a state school) that might otherwise have been available for things I consider wrong.
    Have I done everything within my means to stop the madness? No. And I bear blame and responsibility for that.
    Have I voluntarily joined the army and promoted the madness? No. And that was a deliberate decision, made at a time when joining the army might have been beneficial to me economically, because I knew that, as an institution, it would require an immoral commitment to obey orders to harm others without the necessary information to determine that the orders were legal and morally proper.
    Have I done things, where I can, to try and control the madness? Yes. I drive the most fuel-efficient car I could find, I carpool when possible, use public transportation when possible, lived on campus for as long as possible, eliminating the need to drive to school, for several years before going back to school I lived in an apartment across the street from my job, so I could walk in even the worst weather, I try to vote for candidates that promote responsibility within the government and its institutions, etc. Is it enough? No, probably not. And I am responsible for that failing which helped promote the situation that we find ourselves in.
    But everyone in the US bears some responsibility for the evils our government is doing, and those who choose to work for/in the government institutions that are actually doing these things bear more responsibility than those who work in jobs less closely involved.
    And a willingness to take a job that involves obeying orders without the information to determine that the orders are, in fact, good, is something that carries a level of blame on its own – the potential for a soldier to be given orders that are illegal and immoral is too well known to accept a claim that such a commitment to obey can be made innocently.

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    Hapax: OTOH, I will chirp in my Polly-annish way, that the very existence of wikileaks gives me some hope in resistence to these policies within the US military…
    Not any more…


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