Back to Index

US treatment of terrorists

How should one treat terrorists? It depends whose ox is being gored. Hence the different appreciations of Americans and Europeans. Prime Minister Tony Blair has made an excellent defense of the US methods, but he does not speak for all Britons, as is clear from this blast from John Heelan, whose political affiliation I do not know: "Could somebody credible (i.e. not a politician or political activist) please explain to me the difference between the captured American, John Walker Lindh, an alleged Al-Quaeda operative and Taleban soldier, and the other alleged Al-Quaeda operatives and Taleban soldiers held in Gitmo?

Other than being an example of more blatant US hypocrisy, why does Lindh enjoy standard prison accommodation, face civil proceedings (with all the necessary legal protections) and at worst a life sentence, whereas the non-Americans are house in open-air dog-kennels, face secret military proceedings (without legal protection) and at worst execution? Does the White House care about the crumbling US reputation world-wide?"

However, the most severe criticism comes from continental Europe, which is much less pro-US than Britain. Indeed, it accuses Britain of cooperating with the US, and this Reuters report tells us: UK warned not to slash human rights: In an implicit criticism of Britain, a European forum of parliamentarians said no country should opt out of obligations to protect human rights in order to fight terrorism. Britain advised the Council of Europe last month it would suspend guarantees against arbitrary detention contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. "In their fight against terrorism, Council of Europe member states should make no derogations from the European Convention on Human Rights," the resolution adopted said. The parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, of which Britain is a member, also said the 43 member states should refuse to extradite suspects charged with terrorism offences if they could face the death penalty. "The same principle should apply if there is a risk of ill treatment or trials which disregard the fundamental principles of fairness," the resolution, which is not binding on governments, said. The US still applies the death penalty and has said it could try Taliban or al-Quaeda members charged with terrorism-related offences before special military tribunals. Britain's decision last month was connected to emergency anti-terrorism laws brought in following the 11 September airliner attacks on the US. London cited Article 15 of the convention, which allows a signatory to suspend many treaty obligations "in time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation". The resolution said efforts to combat terrorism should comply with national and international law and respect human rights.

John Heelan carefully speaks of Walker/Lindh as "an alleged Al-Quaeda operative". I thought it was proven beyond a doubt, but this report from Paul Simon baffles me: "Those of you who have met her know that my wife is much smarter than me (and spare me the "that's not hard" quips). Of several pithy observations watching BBC World last night, her most amazing was: "Let me get this straight. John Walker is 20. As a young 18 year old, not particularly bright and with no language skills, he set off on his "journey", with no prior credentials except being a recent convert to Islam. He went to Yemen, got involved in Radical Islam, went to Pakistan, joined Al-Quaeda, went back and forth to Afghanistan multiple times. He met Osama Bin Ladin several times and was told all about the 9-11 attacks in advance. So he has told investigators. So tell me just where was the CIA? They keep saying how impenetrable Al-Quaeda is, that it is a must-be-born-into-it tribal thing, impossible to penetrate. SO HOW COME an 18 year old knucklehead could do it so easily?"

Ronald Hilton - 1/25/02