Guantanamo Martyrs?

Yesterday, the mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, told a military court in Guantanamo Bay that he wanted to be executed. "Yes, this is what I wish. I have looking to be a martyr from long time. I will, God willing, have this, by you. I understand very well." It is imperative that Mohammed not get his wish. I am not lawyer, and I do not understand all the legal niceties that have so far characterized the debate about what to do with the prisoners at Guantanamo. There is something histrionic about the concern many liberals have shown for perceived violations of Habeas Corpus when, as Ben Witttes of the Brookings Institution has clearly shown, Habeas is not at issue here. Detaining the prisoners at a location with a murky jurisdictional status may have appealed to some in the Bush Administration as a good idea, but in retrospect, it might have been better to keep the prisoners in Afghanistan where they were apprehended. Habeas does not, and cannot, extend beyond our own jurisdiction. As Wittes points out, the debate about Habeas Corpus, no matter how it is resolved, focuses on the legal issues, not the policy issues, which are very difficult and complicated. It is vital that we define terrorism more clearly. If part of the definition of a terrorist involves acting beyond the law, then it is difficult to see how the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which is an arm of a legal government, can be called terrorist. If the "war on terror" really is a war, then the rules of the Geneva Convention should apply to the terrorists, yes? And there is the practical matter of what do we do with these prisoners now that we have them, a question that will haunt the next president who must live with the often short-sighted decisions of the Bush Administration. Democrats must be wary that they do not let their criticisms of the Bush Administration lead them into the appearance of an undue respect for the welfare of the Guantanamo prisoners. Sen. Obama especially must rein in some of his more extravagant rhetoric. The detainees at Guantanamo are human beings who possess rights that must be respected, but they are also, and proudly, self-proclaimed mass murderers. The reason we respect their rights has less to do with the possibility they might be innocent and more to do with what it means to defeat terrorism. Terrorists can’t do what the Nazis did. They can’t overrun Europe. They can only win if they scare us into abandoning the standards of civilization we have achieved. Our treatment of the terrorists at Guantanamo speaks to our decency, not theirs. Most importantly, we should not feed the peculiar psychosis of terrorism, the blending of personal annihilation with redemption, the vision of murderers acting as agents of Providence, the nihilism that attracts precisely in its insanity. The way to defeat that psychosis is to deny the Mohammed his wish. As a legal matter, I am sure that America has the right to put this man to death. As a political matter, it would be very stupid, advancing neither justice nor our geo-strategic objectives. Let him sit forever in jail. Release pictures of him in clean clothes eating good food. Do not permit him to become a propaganda tool against us. Most of all, fight the nihilism of the terrorists by reminding all the world that the standards of civilization that we have achieved, and which the terrorists seek to overthrow, are still in place long after the Twin Towers fell. We will not let the terrorists lead us into a denial of their humanity, nor our own. Michael Sean Winters
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