WASHINGTON, Dec. 20, 2015 – President Obama’s dogged determination to release captured Islamist terrorists detained at Guantanamo and close the facility is a perverse application of my grandfather’s logic some decades later.
As a young boy, fishing consumed boyhood summers in Michigan’s North Woods, where rowing to a spot triangulated in a glacier-carved lake and dropping a worm-baited hook resulted in presentation of a stringer of yellow perch to my grandmother, which she’d pan-fry for supper.
Decades later my grandfather confided that each morning, unbeknownst to me, he’d driven to a promontory wherefrom to observe and ensure my safety. As the old man whose name I bear lay dying, I recalled a kernel of wisdom he gave me that bears recalling another two decades later as we face the existential threat of radical Islam.
“Billy,” he gently suggested, “some of these boys are a little small. Put ‘em back, son. Let ‘em get bigger, and next year when you catch ‘em they’ll fight harder and have more meat on their bones.”
He handed me a ruler, suggested a minimum length, and gave me a catch-and-release strategy to ensure that my angling passion wouldn’t wipe out the perch population and fun and food would fill future summers.
The catch and release of terrorists at Guantanamo, as being applied by Obama, ensures that they will rejoin brethren battling for the caliphate, acquire more training and operational intelligence, and attack and kill our soldiers and civilians again.
A natural resource conservation measure like catch-and-release, designed to sustain a fish population, should have no application to Islamists, whose numbers we should be forcing to zero post haste.
My grandfather would be horrified at Obama’s Guantanamo folly, and so should we.
Interestingly, angling science offers a superior approach to Islamist terrorism by analogy. To wit: governments pay bounties to fishermen to wipe out species like lionfish and snakeheads—vicious, invasive foreign intruders that attack and destroy indigenous fish habitats and populations.
Why not treat Islamists like lionfish or snakeheads rather than like perch, a domestic natural resource that sustains our lives? Why not eradicate, rather than catch and release, Islamists?
The law of war condones Islamist eradication. Under it, detention incapacitates captured enemy fighters while allowing interrogators to wrest away intelligence that prevents future attacks. A captor may detain enemy fighters until the end of the war and longer if detainees are convicted of criminal offenses.
And enemy fighters may be sentenced to death for espionage, sabotage and terrorism.
Moreover, 70 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held that to deny the president the power to detain and prosecute enemy detainees outside the U.S. would undermine the war effort and “aid and comfort to the enemy.” At Nuremburg, Tokyo and elsewhere, justice was done when captured foreign fighters engaged in espionage, sabotage, war crimes and terrorism were tried, convicted, and executed.
Relying upon legal precedents, the U.S. transferred Islamist fighters—foreigners captured overseas attacking U.S. military and CIA personnel post-9/11—into detention at Guantanamo, Cuba. Islamist fighters are unlawful combatants, and, unlike uniformed soldiers of national armies can be vigorously interrogated and prosecuted for the very act of attacking American civilians and soldiers.
This is precisely why they were sent to Guantanamo: to be incapacitated, interrogated and, where appropriate, tried, convicted and disposed of appropriately.
Guantanamo’s success, however, fed a backlash.
When interrogators extracted information that disrupted Islamist operations and helped capture, prosecute and kill senior Islamists, including bin Laden, radical lawyers and law professors, many blaming the U.S. for 9/11, sacrificed truth on the altar of ideology.
Conditions at Guantanamo are vastly better than at most federal prisons. Detainees eat better than most Americans; they enjoy libraries, well-equipped exercise facilities, a rich array of entertainment options and excellent medical care; and worship freely.