Your Mail: How to Treat Terrorists, How to Treat Foley

In my article on torture, I wrote that the basis of international law is reciprocity and that if it is to be recognized at all, we must follow the golden rule.

While some of you recognized humane treatment of prisoners as a tenet of American values, others believed the Golden Rule doesn’t apply when individuals employ unconventional tactics of warfare.

Melodye Aben writes:

I must say your take on torture is interesting as you cite the Golden Rule. However, what seems to be missing is the reality of the situation: the terrorist chose not to follow the rules of conventional warfare nor do they treat our soldiers/citizens by the rules of the Geneva Convention… therefore it stands to reason if their tactics are barbarity then it is highly unlikely they will respond to soft methods of interrogation.

Additionally, the Geneva Convention applies to militaries and the terrorists do not represent any country’s military, therefore they are not covered under the Geneva Convention or any type of international law. It is the responsibility of a government to use any and all means necessary to protect its citizens…To do less than whatever is necessary allows the terrorists to assume that we as a nation are weak, thus emboldening them.

SRE: I appreciate your point and do not mean to imply that what the terrorists are doing is moral, just, or right. But it is important to point out that terrorists aren’t a group of people whose ideological underpinning is to employ unconventional tactics of war. Terrorism is simply a method (however reprehensible) of enacting social change. Certainly we often disagree with the type of social change terrorists are trying to enact, but not always.

Governments often don’t resort to terrorism because they have the resources and international standing to engage in traditional negotiating and warfare. Therefore, I don’t believe the argument that terrorists have chosen to engage in tactics of terrorism over conventional types of warfare is always on point.

Frank Canepa of Colorado writes:

While our "enemy" brutalizes both civilians and military personnel, I agree that we should hold ourselves to a higher standard. However, the sainthood the ACLU and Amnesty International and others are promoting is beyond reasonable. They only do it because..."they can" and they have a vocal audience.

However, in spite of their ranting, it should be understood that:

A. The individuals we hold in custody are not part of an organized and uniformed military. Therefore, while we should accord them basic necessities, we have the right to hold them indefinitely without charges.

B. There are not any "rules of engagement" when dealing with terrorists. Therefore, we have a hybrid of rules defined on-the-fly. To strictly apply the Geneva Conventions is a misapplication of those rules, but to treat them less than humanely is against American values. Therefore, our middle position is both reasonable and rational given the circumstances.

SRE: Thank you for these points and the others given in your email. I appreciate your acknowledgment that American values require some basic level of treatment of our prisoners.

Michael Leslie of Ft. Wayne, Ind., writes:

Susan, your opinion concerning terrorists and the Geneva Convention overlooks a couple of crucial facts. First of all, since terrorists are not uniformed members of a nation's armed forces they are not covered under the Geneva Convention, period.

Secondly, even if they were, do you honestly think that they would treat a captured American soldier according to the Geneva Convention's rules? I think not; at best the soldier would only be killed. So much for the argument that our observance of the Geneva Convention will have any effect on how they treat us.

SRE: Maybe you’re right. I think that depends on the particular group we are discussing, but I believe our moral high-ground and any chance that a terrorist group would treat our soldiers humanely rests on our treatment of them.

As for my article on Foley...

Joe Gustafson of Charlotte, N.C., writes:

Mel Reynolds is not “tit for tat.” The press did not cover Mel “I hit the jackpot” Reynolds 24/7. Neither did they condemn the entire Democratic Party. Nor did the press give a damn with Gary Studds, or Fred Richmond. How about comparing Gary Inouye to Bob Packwood???? C’mon Susan.

Try a slight re-write of this sentence from your article: “This man was a Congressman [president.] He had power over these boys [that girl.] He shouldn’t have been having any kind of sexual contact with them [her] – cyber [oral] or physical -- and the fact that the leadership knew that he had a problem and did nothing about it makes them as guilty as he is.”

SRE: I think an argument for consent stretches a little further for Monica Lewisnsky, but I basically agree. Clever.

Bob Meyer of Scotts Valley, Calif., writes:

You and I have opposing views on some issues, but I respect your sane, reasoned arguments for your point of view. Your point regarding Republican posturing and hypocrisy in the recent Foley dust-up is well taken, but I fear that some on both sides of the aisle are guilty of hypocrisy or worse-- unfortunately for those of us who think government should be conducted with honesty and integrity.

Frankly, I'm pretty sick of it all. Thanks for being a responsible advocate for the left -- if we had more like you, on both sides, the country would be better off.

SRE: Thanks Bob!

Danny Burgess writes:

Correct, tit for tat does [stink], but what [stinks] worse is that you did not write about Reynolds, John Young, Wayne Hays, Gerry Studds and all of these guys stayed in office. Where was your motherly outrage then? Where was the article condemning them?

SRE: As far as the analogy extends, I hold the same amount of disgust. You weren’t the only one to believe that the media coverage was partisan.