Monday, June 12, 2006

Spinning Wars versus Winning Wars

Regarding the recent suicides at Guantanamo, camp commander Rear Admiral Harry Harris said, "I believe this was not an act of desperation, rather an act of asymmetric warfare waged against us."

Hey, maybe Admiral Harris has hit on the ultimate strategy to win the war on terror: convince them all that the best way to defeat America is to commit suicide. It's brilliant! Sun Tzu would approve wholeheartedly.

And what the heck, the suicide strategy makes a whole lot more sense than this "stand up, stand down" drivel we've been fed lately.

The suicide strategy would give the administration and Pentagon spin doctors something they could really sink their teeth into. Forget trying to sell the war to Americans, or blaming every failure in the war on Democrats and the media. Launch a massive, multi-pronged psychological operations campaign aimed at convincing the bad guys to do themselves in.

Such a campaign should follow, at the very least, three distinct lines of operation:

Incentive: "Double Virgin Days" would offer twice the virgins in afterlife to young Jihadists for reporting to U.S. controlled "martyrdom centers." At the centers, prospective martyrs would be offered a wide variety of suicide options, everything from self-immolation to "Allah's little helper" pills.

"Don't delay! This is a limited time offer."

Shame: "Suicide now and avoid the draft."

Don't embarrass your family and friends by being one of those losers who had to be ordered to take your own life. Do the manly thing and volunteer.

Radio Free Islam would run constant spots of Ann Coulter saying "There are two kinds of radical Islamists: suicides and cowards."

Depression: "You're a rag head, your life sucks anyway."

Run spots on Arab television of Rush Limbaugh playing golf, lighting $50 cigars with $100 bills and saying, "The only way you'll ever live like me is by being dead."

If this suicide strategy sounds ludicrous to you, you haven’t been paying attention to everything else that's been going on since we launched our woebegone war on terror.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his weekday commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.


  1. Anonymous10:09 PM

    OK, that's just straight out hysterical. ces

  2. Colleen Graffy's snide comment about the suicides being "a good PR move to draw attention" sounds straight out of Monty Python, as does your suggestion that we convince our adversaries to use the "suicide strategy" more widely. This is beyond 'spin' and well into fully delusional. It would be hilarious as a comedy, but sadly, it's all merely tragic.

  3. Meribeth8:19 AM

    The imagination of Harris is truly impressive! I wonder how far up he had to reach to pull that one out.

    If they would only devote the effort and imagination to ending this war...that their imagination got us into in the first place... the we would be bringing our people home. Amazing.

    Actually, it sounds desperate to me.

  4. It seems to me the best course is to await further information. As a society we tend to latch on to things as soon as the most minimal information becomes public, and the press becomes awash in sheer speculation.

    I don't know what happened with these suicides. Were these desperately depressed men who felt they'd never again have a chance at freedom, given the reality (and lack of process) in their detention? Quite likely. Is it beyond the realm of possibility that it was a coordinated suicide meant to bring more negative attention on Gitmo (as it has done)? No, given the fact that we know that some of those we are fighting are willing to commit suicide, I don't think it is outside the realm of possibility. Reportedly, the men left suicide notes. Was there something in the notes that led the camp commander to say what he did, or does he have other information that led to his statement, or is he just blowing hot air and trying to cover his ass as quickly as he can?

    I have no idea. And, I submit, neither does anyone else outside of Guantanamo. I imagine we'll learn more over time.

  5. navywife2:50 PM

    Analyze it anyway you want, but to claim personal suicide as an act of war is just rediculous. When I read this, and realized it was an admiral that said it, I became extremely embarrassed to be associated with the Navy. Personally, I think we need more Mora's in the Navy. He didn't embarrass me.

  6. Regardless of the circumstances, calling suicide an act of war is like calling sit down strikers a rioting mob. (Note, we're not talking about suicide bombing here. Yeah, that's an act of war.)

    As for the admiral's motivations for saying what he did, well, he's got some answering to do about the episode.

  7. That's true - calling it an "act of war" is a bit ridiculous, but I could fathom the act being done as a way to bring negative attention on the facility. Not saying it was, but it isn't outside the realm of possibility.

    As an aside, it looks like the Canadians are finding out about terror suspects and their penchant for claiming to have been "tortured." Read in the Toronto Star that those arrested there are claiming this. I have doubts that the Canadian government is mistreating these guys, but it does underscore what should, I think, be self-evident, which is that it is entirely in the interest of the detainess in Canada, Guantanamo, and elsewhere, to claim mistreatment even when it isn't happening (and conversely entirely in the interest of the authorities to claim there is no mistreatment, even if it is happening), which leads me to further believe that one can only way until more facts come to light to have even a partial view of what is actually going on.

  8. navywife4:47 PM

    But, the government almost makes it impossible to believe them when they refuse to let people into these places to investigate. They supposedly do their own internal investigations, but how can we believe them when there is no outside accountability? Both sides have their motivations, but the easiest way to find the truth would be to let a third party like the Red Cross in to do their own investigation. That hasn't happened in a lot of places, and that makes people suspicious of what the government might be hiding.

  9. Navywife:

    That's true. Any even when they do let people in, those people only see what the military wants them to see - no one knows what goes on behind closed doors. I can understand some of their reluctance to let a group like the international Red Cross in, because from a practical standpoint, what I think would happen is everyone the RC talked to would complain about abuse, then RC workers would come out and report those complaints, and the media would treat them as though they were true, and in some ways it would be more damning than not letting anyone in. At least, I suspect that is part of the fear of letting them in, and I'm not sure it is entirely unfounded.

    The only certain thing, I suppose, is that the war in Iraq is a mess and the rest of this mess stems largely from that. If the admin hadn't bungled Iraq, I don't think the rest of this would be going as poorly.

  10. Yeah, it's the "act of war" bit that I found ludicrous. More on this later.

  11. Cloudy11:33 PM

    The Red Cross does not talk to the press about prison visits. It has strict rules of confidentiality that have gotten it in trouble in the past (cf. concentration camps in WWII).

    The confidentiality can only be broken in certain circumstances:

    if, after repeated approaches and requests, the prisoners' treatment or conditions hasn't improved

    if the ICRC's usual procedures for visits are not respected

    if a detaining authority publishes just part of a visit report


    If I remember right, The Red Cross broke the confidentiality re Gitmo because the Bush admin's Gitmo actions fit into the above three categories.

  12. Cloudy:

    Yes, but if I'm not mistaken, what happened previously was that the ICRC report was leaked to the press, which is something that can always happen (rather conveniently) in the future. Which means one can understand where the concerns lie. I favor allowing the Red Cross in, but I can understand a line of reasoning that would argue against it.

  13. cloudy2:10 PM

    Not sure if my memory serves but I thought the "convenient" leaker wasn't someone from within the ICRC but someone on the rceiving end of the report. The ICRC has guarded the confidentiality most jealously in the past, in order not to give any cause for withdolding access to prisoners for just this kind of line of reasoning.

    Also, will you understand the same line of reasoning if used in the future by a government holding US soldiers prisoner?

  14. navywife2:48 PM

    Cloudy has a good point. And if I am not mistaken, I think under international law we are required to allow the Red Cross access to prisoners. So, when we don't, we are breaking international law. Not like that sort of thing matters anymore. If one went through and counted all the international laws we have broken over the last several years, they might be shocked.

  15. Navywife:

    International law is a bit of a fiction, even under the principles of international law itself (and the underlying doctrine that has persisted throughout the centuries, which is that a sovereign can't be bound against its will).


    You may be right about the source of the leak. I don't remember for sure. For some reason I was thinking it came out of the ICRC itself.

    As for U.S. prisoners, yes I would certainly be able to understand the rationale, because it would be the same rationale I mentioned above, but in both cases I favor access. The reason is that even though there may be a rationale against, the dangers posed by allowing any nation to keep prisoners indefinitely and in complete secrecy outweigh the dangers that might be presented by leaks or information (or even misinformation) as a result of allowing the access.

  16. Navywife:

    To perhaps better explain what I mean about international law above, I have an excerpt from the website of the Canadian Council on International Law:

    " is still accurate to hold that, strictly speaking, international law does not bind Canada, or any sovereign states for that matter. The fundamental reason behind this lack of obligatory legal force relates to the so-called Westphalian model of international relations, which very much remains at the centre of the present state system and hence the present international law system."

    The idea, like I said, is that a sovereign country can't be bound against its will. International law, then, only binds a country to the extent it consents to be bounds. It is a rather abstract way of looking at it, but there you have it.

  17. Coming in late on this thread...

    I'm not sure right now that I agree with Scott's assertion that international law is a "bit of fiction," but there's certainly much to support the notion that it's somewhat abstract.

    For the US, any international agreement entered into by agreement of 2/3 of the Senate is the "law of the land" by our own Constitution. But treaties can be abbrogated, and I'm pretty sure the Constitution doesn't outline procedures for doing it.

    And keep in mind that our Constitution is the longest standing such legal document. Britian's government law system is older, of course, but it's not codified like ours is.

    So, yeah, as Scott says, nothing in international law actually trumps sovreignty. It's largely a matter of what you agree to, what you don't agree to, and what you can get away with.

  18. cloudy4:26 PM

    And like I've said many times before, (paper) money is a bit of an abstract as well--it's also mostly a matter of faith and trust--but we are all better off believing in both money and international law.

    Why even try to get countries to agree to "humane" rules of warfare or nuclear non-profileration treaties or land mine treaties or environmental treaties if we can't force the sovereign countries to keep their promises anyway?

    It the final analysis, it all boils down to trust/good will/reputation/shame. That sort of stuff may not matter to the world's only superpower. Unless, of course, it kinda sees that being hated and distrusted by all the Lilliputians is not a good thing and b) it happens to be head over heels in debt to the said Lilliputians.

  19. Huhn. Monty Python indeed. Near the end of the movie Life of Brian, as Brian is on his crucifix slowly dying, the crack suicide squad of the Judean People's Front, err, commits suicide, in order to show the Romans just how committed they are to driving out the Romans.

    But someone needs to tell Admiral Harris that The Life of Brian was *FICTION*, and is not, in fact, being used as an instructional manual by the Iraqis!

    Regarding law: All law is a fiction. It is a fiction backed up by guns and propaganda in order to indoctrinate people into abiding by it, but it is a fiction, just drivel written on paper, in the end. As we've seen, the people with the guns (the Bush Administration) respect law only insofar as it agrees with what they already want to do. International law is more transparently a fiction than domestic or Constitutional law, but is no more or less a fiction than any other law. As with any law, it is followed only if a) there are meaningful consequences for not following it, or b) morality or propaganda convinces one to follow it.

    The Bush Administration apparently feels there are no meaningful consequences for not following international law regarding Gitmo (they do not consider mistreatment of American soldiers by future enemies as meaningful consequences, because soldiers are "those" people, suspiciously poor or dusky as vs. good upstanding wealthy white Protestants like the Busheviks, and thus not worthy of consideration except as propaganda props), and has no morality to convince it that it should otherwise follow international law, so the Bush administration, like a Wyoming farmer back in the days of 55mph speed limits, simply ignores international law. But this does not mean that international law is any more or less valid or any more or less fictional than any other law -- simply that the consequences possible under international law aren't consequences that the Busheviks care about.

    - Badtux the Law Penguin

  20. No consequences. Yep, that's how they've been operating.