By Ralph Peters, July 2006
The British military defines experience as the ability to recognize a mistake the second time you make it. By that standard, we should be very experienced in dealing with captured terrorists, since we've made the same mistake again and again.
Violent Islam extremists must be killed on the battlefield. Only in the rarest cases should they be taken prisoner. Few have serious intelligence value. And, once captured, there's no way to dispose of them.
Killing terrorists during a conflict isn't barbaric or immoral - or even illegal. We've imposed rules upon ourselves that have no historical or judicial precedent. We haven't been stymied by others, but by ourselves.
The oft-cited, seldom-read Geneva and Hague Conventions define legal combatants as those who visibly identify themselves by wearing uniforms or distinguishing insignia (the latter provision covers honorable partisans - but no badges or armbands, no protection). Those who wear civilian clothes to ambush soldiers or collect intelligence are assassins and spies - beyond the pale of law.
Traditionally, those who masquerade as civilians in order to kill legal combatants have been executed promptly, without trial. Severity, not sloppy leftist pandering, kept warfare within some decent bounds at least part of the time. But we have reached a point at which the rules apply only to us, while our enemies are permitted unrestricted freedom.
The present situation encourages our enemies to behave wantonly, while crippling our attempts to deal with terror.
Consider today's norm: A terrorist in civilian clothes can explode an IED, killing and maiming American troops or innocent civilians, then demand humane treatment if captured - and the media will step in as his champion.
A disguised insurgent can shoot his rockets, throw his grenades, empty his magazines, kill and wound our troops, then, out of ammo, raise his hands and demand three hots and a cot while he invents tales of abuse.
Conferring unprecedented legal status upon these murderous transnational outlaws is unnecessary, unwise and ultimately suicidal. It exalts monsters. And it provides the anti-American pack with living vermin to anoint as victims, if not heroes.
Isn't it time we gave our critics what they're asking for? Let's solve the “unjust” imprisonment problem, once and for all. No more Guantanamos! Every terrorist mission should be a suicide mission. With our help.
We need to clarify the rules of conflict. But integrity and courage have fled Washington. Nobody will state bluntly that we're in a fight for our lives, that war is hell, and that we must do what it takes to win.
Our enemies will remind us of what's necessary, though. When we've been punished horribly enough, we'll come to our senses and do what must be done. This isn't an argument for a murderous rampage, but it’s opposite. We must kill our enemies with discrimination. But we do need to kill them. A corpse is a corpse: The media's rage dissipates with the stench. But an imprisoned terrorist is a strategic liability.
Nor should we ever mistreat captured soldiers or insurgents who adhere to standing conventions. On the contrary, we should enforce policies that encourage our enemies to identify themselves according to the laws of war. Ambiguity works to their advantage, never to ours.
Our policy toward terrorists and insurgents in civilian clothing should be straightforward and public: Surrender before firing a shot or taking hostile action toward our troops, and we'll regard you as a legal prisoner. But you've pulled a trigger, thrown a grenade or detonated a bomb, you will be killed. On the battlefield and on the spot.
Isn't that common sense? It also happens to conform to the traditional conduct of war between civilized nations. Ignorant of history, we've talked ourselves into folly.
And by the way: How have the terrorists treated the uniformed American soldiers they've captured? According to the Geneva Convention? Sadly, even our military has been infected by political correctness. Some of my former peers will wring their hands and babble about “winning hearts and minds.” But we'll never win the hearts and minds of terrorists. And if we hope to win the minds, if not the hearts, of foreign populations, we must be willing to kill the violent, lawless fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population determined to terrorize the rest.
Ravaged societies crave and need strict order. Soft policies may appear to work in the short term, but they fail overwhelmingly in the longer term. Wherever we've tried sweetness and light in Iraq, it has only worked as long as our troops were present - after which the terrorists returned and slaughtered the beneficiaries of our good intentions. If you wish to defend the many, you must be willing to kill the few.
For now, we're stuck with a situation in which the hardcore terrorists in Guantanamo are “innocent victims” even to our fair-weather allies. In Iraq, our troops capture bomb-makers only to learn they've been dumped back on the block.
It is not humane to spare fanatical murderers. It is not humane to play into our enemy's hands. And it is not humane to endanger our troops out of political correctness.
Instead of worrying over trumped-up atrocities in Iraq (the media give credence to any claim made by terrorists), we should stop apologizing and take a stand. That means firm rules for the battlefield, not Gumby-speak intended to please critics who'll never be satisfied by anything America does.
The ultimate act of humanity in the War on Terror is to win. To do so, we must kill our enemies wherever we encounter them. He who commits an act of terror forfeits every right he once possessed.
Ralph Peters' new book, NEVER QUIT THE FIGHT is now in bookstores.