Here’s Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Face the Nation yesterday stating his view that Gitmo and waterboarding make Americans less safe:
GRAHAM: We will never win this war until we understand the effect that Guantanamo Bay has had on the overall war effort.[...]
One reason it drives my train, I know how images are used against our troops in the Mideast. When you talk about waterboarding here at home, it may get some applause and make you feel good and make you feel tough, but it spreads like wildfire in the Mideast. If you’re a young soldier walking the streets of Afghanistan and Iraq, you’ve just been put in danger.
It says a lot about the state of American conservatism that his opposition to waterboard torture and support for closing Guantanamo Bay prison is enough to make Graham a “moderate.”
but while it’s great that Graham, unlike the majority of the GOP, agrees with our top military commanders that waterboarding and Gitmo hurt American national security, unfortunately Graham also shares the Cheneyite obsession with being “at war,” something he repeatedly came back to in yesterday’s interview:
The president is getting unholy grief from the left, but Bob, I think we’re at war. [...]
We need a legal system that gives due process to the detainee, but also understands they didn’t rob a liquor store. We’re at war, and some of this information is very sensitive and classified. [...]
We have got to win this war within our values system, but understand that it’s a war. [...]
[W]hen you talk about closing Gitmo or giving these guys constitutional rights as an American citizen and losing the fact that we’re at war and reading them their Miranda rights as soon as we capture them, you lose the American people.
We are at war in Afghanistan. We are at war in Iraq, though thankfully bringing that to an overdue end. But this whole “we’re at war” against “the terrorists” thing is so 2002. Lots of people who do things worse than “rob a liquor store” get tried in civilian court. Mass murderers, for example — like Khalid Sheikh Muhammad. He and his cohorts are not soldiers, and don’t deserve the recognition that being treated as “combatants” bestows.
Former General Wesley Clarke wrote in 2007 that, by treating such terrorists as combatants, “we accord them a mark of respect and dignify their acts.”
And we undercut our own efforts against them in the process. Al Qaeda represents no state, nor does it carry out any of a state’s responsibilities for the welfare of its citizens. Labeling its members as combatants elevates its cause and gives Al Qaeda an undeserved status.
If we are to defeat terrorists across the globe, we must do everything possible to deny legitimacy to their aims and means, and gain legitimacy for ourselves.
Being “at war” with terrorism obviously plays to Republican political advantage, but I’ve never heard Graham, or anyone, explain what being “at war” actually gains the U.S. in terms of practical advantage against terrorists. The evidence suggests that, like Gitmo and waterboarding, framing America’s anti-terrorism efforts as a “war” actually hampers those efforts by bolstering the legitimacy of those we should be seeking to discredit.
A 2008 RAND study confirmed Clarke’s view, concluding that the use of “at war” terminology for counter-terrorism efforts actually “encourages others [extremists] abroad” and “elevates them to the status of holy warriors. Terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors.” RAND’s analysis of the data also suggested that the “at war” approach “alienates the local population by its heavy-handed nature, and provides a window of opportunity for terrorist-group recruitment.”
The “at war” approach elevates terrorists’ status and complicates partnerships with governments whose populations are understandably unenthusiastic about their countries being transformed into new fronts in America’s war. On the upside… well, I’m not really sure what the upside of this approach is, other than helping Republicans win elections.