a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Augstein demands air conditioning for Camp X-Ray

Posted by Thomas Nephew on January 29th, 2002

Another* cri de coeur by Rudolf Augstein, publisher of German newsweekly Der Spiegel, as he contemplates Islamist terrorist boo-boos and aggravations in Guantanamo Bay following their richly deserved beating in Afghanistan. In last week’s crocodilian lament, Ach Amerika! (“Oh America!”), Augstein asks his German readers to join his horror at the American military blindfolding, shaving,** and even (gasp) chaining the prisoners from Kandahar. You almost expect Augstein to complain that the Geneva Conventions require pocket money and a half day of free unstructured time a week. Especially, of course, if the detainees belong to organizations more akin to the Mafia or high seas pirates than anything international jurists ever paused to consider over coffee and cake at Geneva.

I can understand that Augstein’s self-interest may make him hope for a nice little prisoner uprising, it would make great copy no matter what happens: if Americans wipe out the uprising, it might be a tasty war crime to bitch about; if Americans die, why, those jack-booted thugs are finally getting some of their own medicine. If only the uprisings were interesting when they happen to Pakistanis; they get them all the time. Just last week another six hapless foot soldiers paid the price for their superiors’ continued and suspicious incompetence in guarding and transporting Al Qaeda prisoners.

The point of the Geneva Conventions must surely have been — well, I don’t know that, start over — surely ought to have been to assign rights and responsibilities to the signatories, and to establish a mutually beneficial and reciprocal standard of behavior. Where that expectation has no hope of being met, the Conventions shouldn’t be flogged into one last mile after another of service they ought not to have been intended for. There are perfectly good grounds and reasons not to assign prisoner of war status to these guys: if just carrying a gun openly and fighting U.S. forces turns out to be a ticket to Geneva Convention prisoner of war treatment, look for drug runners, narco-terrorists and any of twenty or thirty million numbskulls between Rabat and Djakarta to jump on the bandwagon next.

But maybe it isn’t the Geneva Conventions Augstein cares about, maybe it’s … animal rights?

The accommodations in Guantanamo’s “Camp X-Ray” mocks every description. The internees are held in 1.8 by 2.4 meter open cages, in hot, humid climate. Were chimpanzees corralled this way, animal rights groups would be beside themselves.

My goodness! That’s awful! Open cages in a humid climate… no, wait, that makes sense, unless there’s an air conditioning clause in the Geneva Conventions. 1.8 by 2.4 meters… OK, it’s not the Ritz. Europe being what it is, I imagine there’s a regulation being born in Brussels as we speak fixing terrorist open air cage dimensions at 2.0 by 2.6 meters.

Meanwhile, there’s a reasonably urgent need to interrogate them — not torture them, interrogate them — and P.O.W.’s can’t be interrogated beyond name, rank and serial number. So people who abandon common sense about these bastards are asking us to walk away from some of the best leads we have about where the next attacks are planned, for no apparent better reason than to preen their smug superiority. International law can’t possibly be well worked out about the highly unusual circumstances that the Taliban and Al Qaeda present. I’m not saying beat these guys to within an inch of their lives, and throw them in The Hole for four months — I got over that by September 13th or so. But I am saying that when I get a finger wagged in my face about reasonable, hellishly careful precautions — physical and legal — with unreasonable, hellish people, I’d like to break off the finger and feed it to its owner. Augstein concludes,

The Americans can only get on their high moral horse if they let themselves be measured by their own standards. A democracy is always only as good as its behavior towards the (allegedly) worst terrorists.

So that’s how to measure democracies! Who knew. Well, I guess all those bagels, cream cheese, and prayer mats are money well spent. Clearly, Americans are less interested in moral equestrianism than Augstein. But just as clearly, there’s nothing to be ashamed of at Camp X-Ray.

* I discussed Augstein’s writings on 9/11, Israel, and the U.S. a couple of weeks ago. Didn’t like him then, either.
** Re shaving: I’ve read a number of suggestions why this was done, including lice, and simply to tick the guys off, which would be good enough for me. My guess, for what it’s worth, is that long beards could plucked and woven into ropes and thus weapons without much trouble; plus you can hide stuff in them. So off they go, and off they stay. If that all bugs Augstein and his ilk, that’s just icing on the cake. If it runs against the International Understanding on Terrorist Facial Hair, let me suggest it’s time for a new conference in a lovely Swiss resort. Surely we can all get behind that.

And credit Jim Henley with the point about last week’s uprising in Pakistan.

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