Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Choosing Sides

August 15, 2005


The shariah court of al-Qaeda Organization in Iraq has decided to hand the apostate, the ambassador of Egypt, which is allied to Jews and Christians to the mujahedeen to…kill him. (Al-Qaeda Organization for Holy War in Iraq, July 6,2005) 

These chilling words were issued four days after the Egyptian ambassador designate to Iraq, Mr. Ihab el-Sharif, was kidnapped in Baghdad. 

On July 7, the same day that four explosions rocked the city of London, killing more than 50 commuters on their way to work and wounding 700 more, the Iraqi terrorists posted this statement on the Internet: 

We, al-Qaeda in Iraq, announce that the judgment of God against the ambassador of the infidels, the ambassador of Egypt, has been carried out. Oh enemy of God, Ihab al-Sharif, this is your punishment in this life.” 

And with that, the terrorists had once again struck to drive fear into the hearts of all who are assisting in bringing a measure of normalcy and freedom to the hard-pressed people of Iraq. The message is all too clear. Cooperate with the new Iraq; and killers will lie in wait for you 

Where Are the Protesters Now?

One might have hoped that this monstrous deed would have been cause for action by those who are quick to take to the streets in protest against the Americans. But nothing of the kind happened. The protesters where otherwise engaged. They were battling the police and hurling insults at the G8 leaders who came to discuss relief for impoverished Africa. 

What is now resonating across the world is the charge that the U.S. is a violator of human rights and international law by its abusive treatment of prisoners. 

This charge has gained a lot of traction by the Abu Ghraib pictures of cruel and humiliating treatment of prisoners, and by the more recent allegations that prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay facilities have also been abused. 

Even U.S. politicians and commentators are joining in the outcry against their own government. It is obvious that this antagonism is nourished by very strong ideological undercurrents that make dispassionate discussion difficult. 

What further adds to this difficulty is that it occurs in the context of the war declared against the Western democracies by those Muslim leaders who perceive reality as a conflict between the world of Islam and the non-Muslim world. 

This idea of two worlds in conflict is very poorly understood in the West. Most of them want to believe those Muslim leaders who assure us that Islam is a religion of peace. 

It is nevertheless true that, according to their own testimony, all Muslim terrorists are convinced that they are serving their god who will reward them with a special place in heaven. This belief is a powerful motivation for the suicide terrorists who kill innocent men, women and children in Iraq, Madrid, London and many other places.   

It is of course true that not all Muslims share this belief. Indeed, it’s safe to assume that most of them reject that position. But here we are concerned with the Muslim believers who are convinced that the Koran and other sacred Muslim scriptures enjoin them to strive for the rule of Islam in the entire world, by peaceful means if possible, by force if necessary. 

Instead of recognizing this militant form of Islam for what it really is, many in the West are in denial and look for other causes that motivate the followers of Osama bin Laden. They look for things that have offended Muslim believers, and many fix the blame on America. That’s how they have recently ratcheted up public attention on the treatment of prisoners. 

What About Those Pictures?

And what about the American treatment of its prisoners, is there not a real problem? Yes, there is, but not in the way many protesters would have us believe. 

American authorities have clearly stated that abuse of prisoners is a violation of the military code of conduct and not to be tolerated. Complaints are now being investigated and some have resulted in discipline and jail terms. 

However, critics insist that these abuses are not exceptions to the rule but are endemic in the American military. This argument has recently heated up with respect to the alleged abuses at the Guantanamo Bay prison facilities.  A special point of contention is the method of interrogation used to obtain vital information that will help the fight against terrorism. 

The question is to what extent may pressure be used that does not go beyond the bounds of respect for human life - even in time of war. And on this score it will be impossible to achieve agreement especially in the current climate of hostility. 

What is remarkable is that the American military take all accusation seriously and have imposed a strict set of guidelines for interrogators. 

None of that has abated the hostility of the critics. That’s why there must have been much rejoicing when Time magazine obtained a classified copy of the record kept by interrogators of a key al-Qaeda fighter now detained at Guantanamo Bay. Time proudly announced its scoop: 

“Exclusive: To Get the ‘20th Hijacker’ to Talk, The U.S Used a Wide Range of Tactics. A Secret Log reveals The First Documented View of How Gitmo Really Works” (Time, June 20,2005, pp. 16-23) 

This “hijacker” at first lied about his name and background.  But it eventually emerged that he had attempted to enter the U.S. under false pretenses in 2001, and had been refused entry by an alert immigration officer. Authorities now believe that he was the intended 20th member of the 9/11 hijackers. 

His name turned out to be Mohammed al-Qahtani, who was captured in December 2001 in Afghanistan and then transferred to Guantanamo Bay. Once al-Qahtani’s true identity was known, he was recognized to be a prime source of information. 

He was therefore subjected to a steady regime of intense interrogation and pressure that according to the Pentagon resulted in valuable information about bin Laden and others in several Arab countries, al-Qaeda finances, and terrorist training camps. 

The methods used to get al-Qahtani to cooperate involved some uncomfortable and certainly stressful treatments. The Time article provides a detailed account of the interrogations on the basis of information contained in the “secret log”. documents. Throughout, medical personnel carefully monitored al-Qahtani and provided him with the needed medication and care. 

Time reports that the dispute is between the American military and its detractors who charge that the interrogators are employing methods that amount to an “outrage on personal dignity.” 

But then as if the four-person team of writers of this article had second thoughts about their publication of this classified document, they concluded: “Then again, in the war on terrorism, the personal dignity of a fanatic trained for mass murder may be an inevitable casualty.” 

Things You Will Not Read in the Mainline Press

Lt. Col. Gordon Cuculli recently reported on his fact-finding visit to the Guantanamo Bay facilities as a member of a Department of Defense mission. He wrote that abuse exists of a kind that gets no press attention. His version of the abuse that he witnessed: 

 it’s the relentless, merciless attacks on American servicemen and women by these terrorist thugs. Many of the orange jump-suit clad detainees fight their captors at every opportunity, openly bragging of their desire to kill Americans. One has promised that, if released, he would find MPS in their homes through the internet, break into their houses at night, and ‘cut the throats of them and their families like sheep’…. One detainee was heard to tell another: ‘One day I will enjoy sucking American blood, although their blood is bitter, undrinkable…’ They attack guards whenever the soldiers enter their cells, trying to reach up under protective facemasks to gouge eyes and tear mouths. They make weapons and try to stab the guards or grab and break limbs as the guards pass them food.

(FrontPageMagazine.com, June 27,2005) 

Even among people of goodwill, debates and disagreements will continue about what is or is not allowed in interrogating prisoners who are hardened fighters dedicated to the holy war against infidels. 

The U.S. may well be unwise, as suggested by David Frum, in  handling the legal aspects of the war “on pure executive fiat.”  He is of the opinion that the administration would be better off to work with Congress in preparing a formal legal code to govern its anti-terror operations. 

However, it is far-fetched to argue that America has lost its moral compass and is no different from the tyrants it has removed. 

There is a world of difference, and it is this: The Taliban and Saddam Hussein regimes were engaged in the systematic destruction and enslavement of human life. Their entire system was corrupt, inhumane, and a threat to their neighbours.  

In contrast, the America-led military action has as its purpose the liberation of oppressed people, and the morality of that undertaking is not annulled by the wrongs committed by some miscreants. 

Those who are unwilling or unable to see that vital difference are trivializing evil, and they dishonour the sacrifice of the men and women in the American-led military.

They are also trivializing the courageous Iraqi men and women who, against tremendous odds, daily risk their lives in helping to build a decent and free society. 

This is sad. What is sadder still is that by their actions they lend support to those who engage in a campaign of destruction and murder. 

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