Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The POW conundrum

~rich, over at Beef Always Wins, has an interesting post regarding a Washington Post article about the US's problem with holding captured combatants for the long term. It is an interesting issue, since we've not previously dealt with it in an civil liberties era. Bouncing ones way through history, there have been a lot of different approaches to captured enemies. Lots of cultures (e.g., the Romans) simply turned captured enemies into slaves. In the Middle Ages, poor soldiers were often killed, while rich knights were held for ransom. Indeed, these ransoms were often so valuable that they drove strategies and tactical decisions for whole armies. The concept of concentrating enemy combatants into a finite space is a fairly recent one, and it brings with it a significant question: since no one can tell how long a war will last, what provisions does one make for these combatants? The Napoleonic War, after all, lasted on and off for more than 15 years. Here, we're clearly not engaged in a war that can be resolved in a single, decisive battle. This war may go on for decades. On the one hand, it seems inhumane to hold POWs for decades. On the other hand, it's illogical for a nation at war to release enemy combatants back into the field. It's a vexing problem, with clashing interests: the US's interest in minimizing the number of fighters arrayed against it; and the fighter's interest in not being imprisoned for an indeterminable length of time. Clearly, it is time to think about this problem and reach something approximately a just (or, at least, justifiable) solution.