Monday, June 12, 2006

A New Kind of Suicide Attack

The Guantanamo camp commander has asserted that the suicides of three prisoners constitute "an act of asymmetric warfare waged against us."

Does this mean the terrorist threat level will now be elevated to...oh, Or zxyrwvrt? Apparently the GWoT is not not only a forever war, but a war that takes us into new dimensions of thought. When they told us that everything was different after 9/11 I didn't realize they meant...ya know...logic...

And, the Deputy Secretary of State for "Public Diplomacy" (a susidiary of the Ministry of Truth) a truly heart-warming display of empathy...called the suicides "a good PR move." (via James Wimberley at Kleiman's digs)

Is it just me, or have these people (broadly construed) simply gone bat-shit crazy?


Blogger James Redekop said...


6:10 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

William Goodman from the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights told AFP news agency the three dead men were "heroes for those of us who believe in basic American values of justice, fairness and democracy".

Mr Goodman, whose organisation represents some 300 detainees, said the government had denied them that.

Ken Roth, head of Human Rights Watch in New York, told the BBC the men had probably been driven by despair.

"These people are despairing because they are being held lawlessly," he said.

My bet is that the only despair they felt was not being able to take a bunch of innocent people with them.

But I'm willing to wait and see, and I'm not ready to join Mr. Goldman in calling them heroes just yet. But that's just me.

6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two people from NGOs saying something doesn't have quite the same impact as an official government communique. I'd never have heard of those guys if you hadn't posted it here. An official government announcement is genuine news.

Al Qaeda is basically a cult. There are ways to deprogram cult members. Guantanamo is not following the usual procedures, to say the least.

-- p mac

7:22 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Yeah, I'm with p mac.

7:40 PM  
Blogger Random Michelle K said...


Just a caution. When you find yourself using the phrase, "you people" or "those people", it may be time to step back and take a deep breath.

Just for your health, you know.

9:12 PM  
Blogger Mike Russo said...

I don't know what the hell Goodman is smoking, but what's wrong with what Roth said? It might be a slight overgeneralization, inasmuch as I haven't seen any direct reports on the mental states of the three decedents previous to their suicides, but if you've followed the reports out of Gitmo over the past two years, there is quite a lot of anecdotal evidence of mounting despair: lawyers report progressive disillusionment with the legal processes, a sharp uptick in the number of suicide attempts (and the profile of who's been making the attempts has changed -- the big riot in early May was in the barracks for compliant prisoners, recall), the psychological effect of the construction of the new, permanent facility, the way the resumption of the military commission hearings has percolated through the camp population, etc.

Again, I have no particular knowledge of the mental states of the three people at issue, but it seems to me Roth is extrapolating from quite a large body of very well-documented evidence as to the pervasive feelings of despair and desperation which have motivated the suicide attempts and the hunger strikes. Maybe all three were hardened al-Qaeda operatives (though I nurture substantial doubts at least as to the guy who was 17 when he was picked up and is alleged to have been a "front-line Taliban soldier" according to the military -- he pretty much fits the profile of foreigners sold to the Americans by the Afghans or Pakistanis), but that's not inconsistent with being driven to suicide by lawless detention.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I used to work for Human Rights First, which has collaborated with HRW in the past, but I hardly have agreed with everything Ken Roth's said in the past, and here he's on very firm ground.

Again, though, Goodman's way out in outer space on this one. Just because some suspected terrorists are victims of atrocious policies doesn't make them heroes.

9:15 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, you'd have read it, p-mac, if you'd've followed WS' link, which I did. If you get to know me, I try hard not to throw just any ol' thing lying around to see what sticks.

But NGOs have great sway in the public debate, let's be clear. They are quoted endlessly and without fail in (most often lefty) Jeremiads. Speaking truth to power and all that.

Or perhaps you see them as I do, as often throwing stuff at the wall for agenda purposes. (The same as governments.) If so, good for you.

To the actual issue: the coordinated suicides indicate to me that these guys were indeed jihadis, and a jihadi rationale as to why this was "martyrdom" shouldn't be hard even for the amateur to formulate if you're familiar with such things.

Perhaps innocent non-jihadists routinely annihilate themselves in concert to make a political point in Saudi or Egyptian jails, but I doubt it. Good riddance, would be the standard there; they saved us the trouble of hanging them.

Now when that monk famously immolated himself in Vietnam, that made a point, since it's out of character for Buddhism. But this is another day, another martyr. Dog bites man.

And of course that's what was meant by "asymmetrical warfare," that this "martyrdom" would register with the polite sensibilities of the west, but would be laughable in the Muslim world.

Admittedly without the facts, I'll stick to my inductive proposition that these guys would have preferred to kill as well as die.

9:20 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Sorry, not buying it Tom.

If we're going to count them killing themselves to make us look bad (supposing for the sake of argument that's what happened) as mounting an attack against us, then we've got such an expansive definition of 'attack' that the concept has ceased to be useful. It's a kind of lost contrast problem.

I actually think that it's possible--though very far from probable--that their primary motivation was to make us look bad.

But that ain't warfare.

Precision here matters. If I injur myself only because I know that people will think you did it, then I wrong you. But not all wrongs constitute warfare.

The combination of:

(a) The improbability of the claim that this was done primarily to harm the reputation of the U.S. (and that despair brought on by imprisonment with no real hope of trial played no significant role).


(b) The use of the absurdly hyperbolic term 'warfare'

Combine to make this claim an embarrassment *to say the least*.

(And, incidentally, I realize full well that many of the prisoners at Guantanamo are very, very bad men. So none of the above comes from any bleeding of the heart.)

10:12 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

I don't think it's deniable that the jihadists are at war with us. That's warfare.

I see them through their own eyes, as best I am able. They, by and large, understand us better that we understand them, or even understand ourselves.

In my opinion.

3:37 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Yes, they are at war with us, but that doesn't entail that everything they do constitutes warfare.

Claims of the kind in question just make us look stupid and evil. It's like something Darth Vader's spokesman would say.

There's nothing wrong with pointing out that one of their motives was to make us look bad--if, indeed, it was.

But "asymmetric warfare"...Jesus, man, these people have to get a grip...

7:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Is it just me, or have these people (broadly construed) simply gone bat-shit crazy?"

Don't worry your pretty little head. Giblets has the answer:

4:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, anyway, suicide in the face of an overwhelming adversary is definitely asymmetrical.

9:13 PM  

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