Europe using Guantanamo as a scapegoat
By Victor Davis Hanson
When President Bush arrived in Vienna last week, protesters bore "World's No. 1 Terrorist" signs while chanting "We will, we will fight Bush." A Harris Poll conducted prior to the president's visit revealed that the European public thinks America is a greater global threat than either North Korea or Iran.
Apparently, our terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay is the most recent open sore. When, European ministers have been persisting, will the United States close down this Neanderthal embarrassment to liberal Western values?
This European anger, however, doesn't seem to be based on evidence of systematic American abuse. Despite Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin's claim that Guantanamo was akin to Nazi camps, the few reported regrettable, isolated cases of sleep deprivation and harassment seem no worse than what we read about in most prisons. The roughly 450 prisoners still there — many of them killers — are probably treated as well as inmates in either Europe or the U.S.
Further, Guantanamo exists to fill a vacuum in an undeclared and unprecedented postmodern war of few good choices in which the enemy does not wear uniforms, adhere to the Geneva Convention or distinguish civilians from soldiers.
If the U.S. were to close down Guantanamo and send the detainees back to their home countries, some returnees would be freed and treated as heroes — and then rejoin the global jihad. Other released terrorists, or so the Europeans no doubt would whine, might be executed by the autocratic Middle Eastern governments in their homelands that are as afraid of Islamic terrorists as we are.
So, should we instead try all of the Guantanamo detainees inside the U.S.?
No. By doing that, we would be inviting thousands of lawyers and public defenders to argue, on behalf of their clients, that we are not in a real war but simply prosecuting common criminals. Numerous trials and appeals as costly and circus-like as the drawn-out spectacle of Zacarias Moussaoui (the so-called 20th hijacker) would likely follow. And, in the end, Europeans would still object, since the U.S. would be exposing foreign nationals to possible death-penalty sentences.
The real problem is that Guantanamo Bay, like Bush himself, has become a symbol of sorts. It is an easy scapegoat through which Europeans can vent their much larger love-hate frustrations with their protector and rival, the hyper-power America.
The pacifism of the European Union was supposed to be a post-Cold War model of liberal reason for the rest of the world. Instead, Islamic fascists have either ignored Europe's human-rights advocacy or considered it a sign of weakness to be exploited. An impotent E.U. is embarrassed and needs cheap targets like Guantanamo to transfer attention away from its past naivete about the dangers of Islamic fascism.
By ankle-biting America on Guantanamo, the Europeans sound moral and tough while ignoring the real dangers for which they have absolutely no solutions — unassimilated and angry Muslims, the Dutch and Danes under assault by radical Islamic censors, and a defenseless Europe potentially soon in range of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's nuclear-tipped missiles.
Note also that the U.S. has been mostly quiet about Europe's own ethical lapses in this war. Americans are in a quandary with Iran in large part because the Europeans — for whom profits trump idealism — sold the theocracy technology needed for the bomb. Nothing new there: Saddam once got his nuclear reactor from the French and his bombproof bunkers from the Germans.
We also hear a lot about the three suicides at Guantanamo but almost nothing about the still-unexplained death of Slobodan Milosevic while being held in Europe. When was the last time Americans chided the Germans that Mohammed Atta conspired to murder thousands of Americans while in their country?
Have we forgotten that Ahmed Omar Sheikh, the killer of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and Richard Reid, the would-be shoe bomber, at one time fit in well with the radical Islamic culture that thrives in London? And how about Abu Hamza al-Masri, who plotted against the U.S. — he's wanted by American authorities on charges of trying to establish a terrorist training camp in Oregon — from his sanctuary in a London mosque?
Yet if the Eiffel Tower topples to a jihadist suicide bomber who assembled his team in Los Angeles or Miami, or if an Iranian missile soars over the Brandenburg Gate, expect the Europeans to drop their present high talk about the "gulag" at Guantanamo — and start whispering about the need for more American terrorist detention centers, classical deterrence and their own missile defense.
But until the Europeans' dream world is shattered, we will hear nonstop screeching about American barbarity. Such outrage says far more about them than us.
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Reach him at author@victor hanson.com.