The Cost of Bargaining with Al Qaeda
Imagine a street in a city in Pakistan. There is a marketplace nearby, and there are women and children going about their daily business, buying food and other goods. The only arguments are between customers and vendors, but they are not mean-spirited – just the typical bargaining on prices. Suddenly, a bomb goes off, and as the smoke clears, the marketplace is leveled. Body parts litter the ground, and screams replace the sound of the blast. The lucky ones that were only wounded slightly are seen wandering, covered in blood, looking for friends and family members in the rubble.
Unfortunately, that is part of life in Pakistan. We have seen it countless times on news clips. Sometimes one radical organization or another claims responsibility, sometimes not. On rare occasions, it is not the result of a bomb, but of an errant missile from a drone operated by the U.S. military. But that is assuming that the marketplace is truthfully only dealing in produce and household goods – it is silly to assume that weapons never make it to largely civilian marketplaces, making them a military target. Regardless, it is unlikely that the U.S. government would tell the truth anyway, because it doesn’t make the situation any better to do so. If anything, it would probably be worse if terrorists knew that the U.S. was aware of how they move weapons, so it’s better to call it a mistake, and offer a boilerplate apology.
The war on terror started in Afghanistan, and has shifted at least in part to Pakistan for obvious reasons – al-Qaeda has migrated there. It is no surprise that as the trial of five 9/11 conspirators begins at Guantanamo Bay, there is a video released of an American captive of Al Qaeda begging Obama for the release of terrorists in custody – presumably including the ones on trial.
I would like to say that I am certain that the President is preparing a letter of condolence for the wife of Warren Weinstein, instead of actually considering bargaining for his release. But given the fact that the trial of the 9/11 conspirators was literally hijacked by the defendants, turning what should have been a short arraignment hearing into a day-long affair, I’m not so sure. In the effort to be seen by the world as the better party in these proceedings, the U.S. is catering to the defendants. The unfortunate result will be depicting the U.S. yet again as the weaker party, at least to those in the Islamic world.
While it would be counterproductive to stoop to the point of engaging in intentional bombings of civilians abroad, and summarily executing 9/11 terrorists, it is equally harmful to bend over backwards to accommodate those defendants. The female defense attorney that attended the hearing wearing the hijab should be censured, and if she still insists on appeasing her client in that regard, she should be removed and replaced either with a male, or a female that will not do the same. It may seem petty, but it is important. To those defendants, her actions show that she acknowledges her “place” in their world. They are not entitled to that, by any stretch of the imagination.
Back to Weinstein, if he is still alive, it is insane to assume that he will ever be recovered alive. Given his health problems, it is quite possible that he is already dead. If he isn’t, there is no reason to think that al-Qaeda would release him regardless of what the U.S. would do. On the contrary, it is in al-Qaeda’s best interest to kill him on video, and release that footage after detainees had been released, to further prove their supremacy over the “weak” Americans. No matter how sad it may be, one American life is not worth giving in to al-Qaeda, period. Such bargaining would only serve to strengthen the resolve of terrorists, and most likely lead to more American deaths from future attacks.
Contrary to what the U.S. has hoped, killing leadership of al-Qaeda has not lessened the threat from the organization significantly enough to render it irrelevant. Pakistan is not a reliable U.S. ally in combating al-Qaeda, and it is foolish to think that it will become one. Without the aid of that nation, putting an end to the terrorist organization once and for all is virtually impossible. The mere fact that there is still a U.S. military presence in the region is fuel for Islamic terrorist organizations in general, so attempts to eradicate radicals is necessarily leading to the creation of more radicals. It has been argued ad nauseum whether or not “enhanced interrogation techniques” are torture, and more importantly whether or not that has lead to more potential members of organizations like al-Qaeda, hell bent on waging war on America.
Now, with the circus of a trial at Guantanamo Bay, it can be argued that the U.S. really has lost sight of what this is really about. Bargaining for peace with the Taliban includes releasing high level prisoners, and all the U.S. wants in return is a pledge that these detainees will not fight again. That is simply “peace at any cost”, and should be an indication that it is time for the U.S. to disentangle itself from the region. The focus should be on trying and punishing the 9/11 conspirators we have in hand. There is no real option for lasting peace in that region, especially not with any level of Western intervention. That intervention is arguably what lead to 9/11 in the first place. We cannot bargain our way to anything other than making ourselves look weak to those that have a deep-seated desire to destroy us. Catering to the enemy is a deadly game that we need to stop playing. If the next trial session at Guantanamo Bay goes as this first one, we have lost. We need to remember what this is about. Anyone that wants to sympathize with these defendants should be forced to watch the most graphic footage available of what happened on 9/11. They should be forced to watch people jumping from the towers to their deaths, over and over again. That is what these men did. That is what they must be held accountable for. We owe them nothing, but we are kind enough to give them their day in court. Get on with the trial, remove the defendants if they will not respect the court, reach a verdict, and put an end to this. Just by having a trial at all, we have taken the higher ground. That is more than enough.