For reasons I don't understand, Ari Fleischer is still considered a credible political voice in some circles, and last night on CNN, the former Bush/Cheney press secretary tried to explain the reason for the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
It's certainly a conversation worth having. Among Republicans, even members of Congress, there's a lingering belief that the Guantanamo facility has something to do with safety -- we're keeping bad guys 90 miles from American soil, the argument goes, because it'd be too dangerous to keep them in super-max prisons.
That is not, has never been, the rationale. Indeed, that's never even made sense, since the federal detention system has already proven to be extremely effective in locking up extraordinarily dangerous individuals. Rather, the reason the Bush/Cheney administration embraced the Guantanamo facility was their desire to work outside the legal framework that exists in the United States, and which they said does not apply on this U.S. naval base in Cuba.
Fleischer effectively admitted as much, saying the facility exists because "these people" -- i.e., the detainees -- "did not even follow the law of war, let alone the rule of law.... These people didn't even wear a military uniform. They engaged in battle against America as terrorists, a violation of the laws of war. That's why Guantanamo got invented."
It's tempting to respond by noting that this isn't a persuasive argument, but the fact is this isn't an argument at all. Even if every single detainee at the Guantanamo facility were proven to be a dangerous terrorist committed to killing Americans -- an absurd assumption, to be sure -- their lack of "a military uniform" doesn't explain the need for an extra-judicial military prison camp for enemies who may or may not be guilty.
Responding to Fleischer, Jeffrey Toobin added, "This country fought Adolf Hitler. And I don't really believe that Osama bin Laden and his group are worse or more dangerous than Adolf Hitler. And we managed to defeat Adolf Hitler by following the rule of law."
And that's when things got interesting.
Ben Armbruster posted the video, but here's the text of Fleischer's reaction to Toobin's observation:
"[Nazi troops] followed the law of war. They wore uniforms and they fought us on battlefields. These people are fundamentally, totally by design different. And they need to be treated in a different extrajudicial system."
Oh, where to begin.
First, as Ed Kilgore reminds us, to say the Nazis "followed the law of war" is wrong.
Second, like Adam Serwer, I find it more than a little jarring to hear Ari Fleischer arguing on national television that the conduct of Nazi troops during World War II was lawful.
And third, whether Fleischer realizes this or not, this still isn't an argument. Terrorists don't wear uniforms and don't fight on battlefields? Fine. There's a case to be made that this, too, is wrong -- if the war in Afghanistan is part of the so-called "war on terror," aren't many of the conflicts taking place on in-theater battlefields? -- but let's not quibble.
In fact, for the sake of conversation, let's say literally everything Fleischer argued is factually correct, including the stuff we know to be wrong -- everyone at the Guantanamo facility is a known terrorist; every terrorist disregards the rules of law and war; and terrorists don't wear uniforms or fight on battlefields.
That still doesn't explain the need for an extra-judicial military prison camp for enemies who may or may not be guilty.