Guantanamo and the Geneva Convention

by | Oct 4, 2006

I oppose any pretense at such a thing as “international law.” The concept of “law” implies governmental enforcement. Where there is no government, such as between nations, there can be no law. This is all the more true when nations are at war. War is an attempt to destroy the enemy–to kill as many of […]

I oppose any pretense at such a thing as “international law.” The concept of “law” implies governmental enforcement. Where there is no government, such as between nations, there can be no law.

This is all the more true when nations are at war. War is an attempt to destroy the enemy–to kill as many of them as needed in order to win. How, then, can here be “conventions” concerning anything between warring nations? It’s a stolen concept–pretending that killing is okay, but not breaking one’s word.

Conceivably, in centuries gone by, when there were non- fanatical, semi-honorable combatants, some sort of mutual understanding regarding treatment of prisoners of war was feasible. But even in the second half of the 20th century, even in the Korean war, American prisoners would routinely be beaten to a bloody pulp and tortured. And the Soviet Communists were expert at torture.

When the enemy consists of fanatical terrorists (who, incidentally, are not part of a national army), the idea of applying the Geneva Convention is grotesque. Yet Senator John McCain, who was himself a POW in the Vietnam war, worries about the consequences to our soldiers if we don’t play nice with the terrorist captives in Guantanamo. But, in fact, there’s simply no relation between the treatment of Guantanmo captives and what will or won’t happen to American POWs in some unspecified future future war against some unspecified enemy.

If “abusing” or even torturing any terrorist captive can be expected to provide information that will prevent the murder of Americans, we are morally obligated to do it. The only problem–and it’s a real problem–is if any of the detainees are actually innocent. But, by now, after holding them and interrogating them for three years, we should be quite clear on who is innocent and who is not. We must give each detainee the benefit of any rational doubt on this score, but not hold back in questioning those we know to be guilty.

Dr. Binswanger, a longtime associate of Ayn Rand, is an professor of philosophy at the Objectivist Academic Center of the Ayn Rand Institute. He is the author of How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation and is the creator of The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z. Dr. Binswanger blogs at HBLetter.com (HBL)--an email list for Objectivists for discussing philosophic and cultural issues. A free trial is available at: HBLetter.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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