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Equal Treatment for Terrorists By: William R. Hawkins
Washington Times | Wednesday, December 19, 2007


The most consistent theme running through liberal-left opinion since September 11, 2001, has been concern for the well-being of the enemy. The latest example is the contrived scandal over the CIA destroying tapes of interrogations of two captured terrorists.

The first instinct of responsible members of Congress is to fulfill their duty to protect Americans from attack. Now they are pushed by ideological zealots to not only accord foreign adversaries "rights" that will protect them from effective U.S. counteraction but to harass their countrymen on the front lines in this deadly conflict.

Joby Warrick and Dan Eggen reported in The Washington Post on a secret congressional briefing given by the CIA in September 2002: "For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, was given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk...on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder."

The same two reporters interviewed former CIA officer, John Kiriakou in regard to Zayn abu Zubaida, a top-ranking al-Qaeda prisoner. Abu Zubaida's interrogation tape was one of those destroyed. Mr. Kiriakou argued that the harsh technique of "waterboarding" used to break abu Zubaida provided intelligence that "probably saved lives." Information gained led to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the September 11 attacks.

The other destroyed tape was of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who planned the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, which killed 17 U.S. sailors. Unlike their victims, both abu Zubaida and al-Nashiri survived their ordeals and are held at Guantanamo Bay. Within the liberal-left ideology, however, it is not the terrorists who are to be condemned, but those who are fighting them. "For what reason would the CIA destroy these videotapes other than to cover up criminal acts committed during the brutal interrogations depicted on these tapes?" asks Caroline Fredrickson, of the American Civil Liberties Union.

At the core of this perverse outlook is the principle of equality, taken to an extreme. The ACLU says it "works to ensure that the U.S. government complies with universal human-rights principles in addition to the U.S. Constitution." In his infamous 2005 rant comparing FBI interrogators to the Nazis, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin complained they had "no concern for human beings."

So everyone is to be accorded equal treatment simply because they meet the lowest common denominator of being "human." This is the notion in play when presidential candidates say they would not authorize "torture" of a foreign terrorist even if it meant saving American lives. The well-being of the terrorist is no less precious than the lives of Americans, because all are equally human, part of a single extended family descending from some common origin.

Indeed, the entire concept of an adversarial "us and them" is to be rejected. Adversaries are just people whom we have not taken the time to understand. Common ground can be found by dialogue, and a fair settlement on the basis of mutual respect. That the purpose of war is to "compel the enemy to do our will" is distasteful to leftists.

Nothing could be more fundamentally wrong as a basis for dealing with the real world. A distinction must be made between "what" we are and "who" we are. "What" is nothing more than a crude, amoral description. It is "who" a person is that matters. How one acts and to where one owes their allegiance are crucial distinguishing characteristics. An unwillingness to differentiate between friend and foe is a fatal handicap in making national policy.

The failure of leftism to make necessary distinctions is seen across the whole spectrum of issues, not just the stark "us" versus "them" of global warfare. Liberals have a longstanding reputation for being "soft on crime." The victims of crime fade from view and the criminals become the focus of benevolent concern. The inability of liberals to deal harshly with terrorists is an extension of their inability to deal harshly with felons. Capital punishment is called inhumane because even serial killers are considered people just like the rest of "us."

The effort to blur distinctions is explicit in the debate over immigration, as terms like "undocumented resident" are substituted for "illegal alien." It is also embodied in trade policy, where Americans are not to be favored over foreigners in U.S. economic policy (national treatment), nor allies favored over enemies (normal trade relations). Why should citizens feel any loyalty to a government that by doctrine rejects expressing any loyalty to them?

An ideology more at odds with common sense and experience is hard to conceive. And in the real world where ruthless adversaries abound, modern leftism is a prescription for defeat.


William Hawkins is a consultant on international economics and national security issues.


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