Ever since its inception, utopian socialist ideology has included calls for the elimination of prisons. Many of the early idealists, such as the Ukrainean left-anarchist Nestor Makhno, believed that prisons were a result of unjust societies; therefore, a just society would inevitably lead to their eradication.
Lenin and Stalin, while recognizing the interim useful- ness of prisons and still giving lip service to the ultimate ideal, took a more pragmatic approach. They instituted policies — starvation, terminal labor, hypothermia, etc. — to eliminate existing prison populations so as to expedite the ideal outcome. But they went even further. By summarily executing suspects before their incarceration, particularly during the Red Terror of the Russian Civil War — voila! — they ensured that there would be no one to lock up; ergo, no prisons.
Barack Obama, in his enthusiasm to close down George W. Bush’s Guantanamo Bay holding tank for combat-captured jihadists, is tacking awfully close to that ill wind. The February 27 issue of The Economist reports that Obama “does not want to add to the problem [of Guantanamo] by bringing more foreign jihadists into American custody. Instead, American forces are either killing them or letting less squeamish allies detain them. This seems to be the rule, not the exception.”
A recent Washington Post investigation into the matter found “dozens of targeted killings and no reports of high- value detentions” by American forces. Last September, the U.S. pinpointed Saleh Ali Nabhan, one of the jihadists responsible for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, in Somalia, coordinating strategy between al Qaeda and its Somali ally, al-Shabab. As The Economist makes clear, “Had he been captured and questioned, he could have been a mine of useful intelligence.” Instead, “American helicopters vaporized him.”
After Milton Friedman was criticized for helping the Pinochet regime design a liberal, free-market economy for Chile’s transition out of the Allende years, some libertarians defended his involvement with the dictator by observing that economic liberty was more fundamental than civil liberty; that, given a choice, people would gladly sacrifice their right to vote for the opportunity to earn money to survive. Are the lives (not to mention the intelligence) of jihadists being sacrificed for their putative “civil rights” (a meaningless detail if you’re dead) in the pursuit of closing Guantanamo? Following the post-Allende logic, I value life itself way over civil rights.
Of course, suspected terrorists caught on American soil are taken into American custody, but those lucky few captured abroad who escape vaporization end up in Iraqi, Afghan, or Pakistani prisons. Human rights activists who once thought Obama was their man are not amused. Do I miss W yet? Don’t ask and I won’t lie.