June 21st, 2007

For the duration

In my series on al-Marri and beyond, I made some suggestions for taking prisoners in this conflict. They involved the concept of incarcerating people “for the duration,” a standard practice in warfare. But we face a special problem in this particular struggle: how is end of the “duration” going to be determined, and are we prepared to detain people in a conflict that could easily last decades?

It’s true that for any war we never know the length of “the duration” in advance; not exactly, and sometimes not even generally. WWI is a case in point, and a typical one for its times: initially it was thought by most on both sides it would all be over quickly, and yet it dragged on and on, and was ended only by armistice. But it did end after “only” five years (although some would say WWII in some ways represented the unfinished business of WWI).

Our attitudes have changed so much that nowadays, when a war begins, people shout “quagmire” before (or shortly after) the first exchange of hostilities. But there’s a certain point they are making, absurd as it may seem, and that is that the current run of asymmetrical wars against an implacable and religiously fanatical foe, dealing not in regular armies but in guerilla and terrorist tactics, dictate that the wars in which we engage these days will ordinarily be very long, even if the formal warfare between the ordinary armies that might be involved tends to be very short. Failure to recognize that the “informal” hostilities will go on and on (and I think that, in some ways, the Bush administration failed to recognize that in its behavior, even though it paid lip service to it in its rhetoric) is a grievous error.

In addition, the duration is long partly because of the broken societies and political systems involved in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq, and the need to rebuild and change those systems in some basic ways. When WWII began, the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe was not envisioned as being part of it, nor was the long occupation of Germany and Japan. If you take these events into consideration, that war was very long indeed (we already know it was very harsh and bloody), and the aftermath, of course, included the Cold War and the long struggle involved in the division of the world into free and Communist.

This article about the legal fine points of the war against Islamic totalitarianism points out that, whatever we call the incarcerated terrorists/militants—illegal enemy combatants or POWs (a status they do not qualify for, but could receive if we decided to bestow it)—the “for the duration” conundrum comes into play, and raises the specter of keeping them indefinitely. This is certainly a unique prospect in recent history, and a disconcerting one that makes many (including myself) uneasy. And yet it is difficult to see a way out of it.

We may not be happy with the prospect of a lengthy duration for the hostilities is facing us. But that’s the way it is. The timetable has been set not by us, but by an unusually patient enemy who sees history in terms of centuries, not years.

45 Responses to “For the duration”

  1. expat Says:

    I am not aware of any realistic public discussions in Germany about what to do with the prisoners. We can’t send then to their home countries because they will be tortured. We can’t hold them forever. We can’t send them to nontorturing home countries because they don’t want them and couldn’t try them under existing laws. Our military tribunals are not good enough for the human rights groups.
    Has any other country proposed an alternative? No. They don’t want to make their voters face the fact that some problems are difficult. It is so much easier to let America deal with the problem while they loudly protest our actions.

  2. stumbley Says:

    “We can’t hold them forever.”

    Why not? Really, why not? If and when the “combatants” realize that they might not see “home” for their lifetimes, might this not deter some from conflict? And if not, then like other habitual criminals, they’re removed from civilized society “for the duration” and can’t commit any more acts of violence.

    The military tribunals will get to them sooner or later. If they’re troubled by being incarcerated for lengthy terms, too bad. It’s the price one pays for picking up arms and hanging around a battlefield. If you don’t want to be considered an “unlawful combatant”….don’t, you know, be one.

  3. Nyomythus Says:

    “Heaven” might more likely be their goal — rather than seeing “home”. It is religious fundamentalist that have engaged the West with this war. Kill them all, sentimentalities aside until this behemoth is domesticated.

  4. alphie Says:

    I don’t think most Americans would have a problem keeping the bad guys locked up “for the duration” provided they were found guilty by a real court first.

    The “fair court” part is the real issue, though.

  5. The Unknown Blogger Says:

    stumbley Says:

    “We can’t hold them forever.” Why not? Really, why not?

    Two words: Maher Arar

  6. stumbley Says:

    Three words:

    Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

  7. armchair pessimist Says:

    Maybe it’s best that they be dead for the duration. They get to go to their heaven; we get rid of them. Win-Win.

  8. alphie Says:

    Sounds like you’re pretty sure the prez won’t designate you an “unlawful combatant” armchair.

    History is full of people who mistakenly thought they wouldn’t be on the receiving of the “special” powers they gave to their government (see:Robespierre, for one).

  9. Lee Says:

    Any reason why Armchair Pessimist should be afraid of being designated “unlawful combatant”, Alphie?
    Or are you here just to manufacture fear as usual?

  10. alphie Says:

    We’re all just one wrong phone number or mouse click away from getting on the list, lee.

  11. Bravo Romeo Delta Says:


    I’ve had people assert that I harbor an unreasonable fear of those who advertise their excitement about killing you, me, and everyone I know. However, I have to admit that your fear of being a mouse-click away from lifetime detention speaks to…

    Well, let’s just say if you’re that afraid of those who – at the very least – have stated an intention to protect you, I can’t imagine what kind of terror you suppress at the thought of those who have no use for you other than as corpse.


  12. Lee Says:

    Gee, Alph,
    If that’s all it takes, considering my bad luck, I should have been rounded up years ago.
    I notice you’re still sticking with that tired old “It can happen to YOU any time” fear mongering.

  13. Lee Says:

    Must not be “that much” of a problem to worry about, since all you hate America first, Bush second types keep “mouse-clicking” away.

  14. Tom Says:

    I prefer “Take no prisoners”. The other side, the unlawful combatant side, takes ’em only for torture and beheading. I’m very much eye-for-an-eye on this one, but I do also favor the death penalty with a markedly attenuated appeals process.

  15. Ymarsakar Says:

    Sounds like you’re pretty sure the prez won’t designate you an “unlawful combatant” armchair.

    You alphie and Unk thinks the President, whether Bush or another guy, will put you folks in GitMo and execute you? What a dream.

    We’ll get back to you on that after you guys get disappeared.

    Maybe it’s best that they be dead for the duration.

    Exactly my position. If you execute them, Neo, then you won’t have to worry about how long you’ll be holding them. You’ll just need to worry about a few high value targets, that you won’t be releasing anyway.

    And yet it is difficult to see a way out of it

    A prime problem is the lawyers. Meaning, if it was just combatant commanders in charge of grabbing these people making decisions on those that they grab, then things would be a lot more streamlined. But we’re in an age where HQ and lawyers in the back with no idea what is going on at the front, is the one making decisions about guilt or innocent or whatever appeals stuff the GitMo boyos come up with.

    That’s not streamlined, Neo, nor is it effective.

    A basic rule should be that the organization or unit that grabs the target, should be the one that decides the fate of the target. Period. No higher appeals, no corrupt bureacracy, nor Mickey Mouse lawyering.

  16. Ymarsakar Says:

    I was trying to run through the logic, and here is what I got. The logic seems to be that people want the government to release or protect known guilty folks because they fear what the government might do to folks like Alphie sometime in the nebulous future. So because these people can’t control whether the government will find them guilty of things they have not done, they will make the government not do certain things like the DeathP or holding terrorists or whatever. This is the foundation more or less. Don’t do anything to people you know is guilty, because presumably if people can get the government to cave on real threats, those same people can then feel assured that they are still in control and are safe from the government locking them up, executing them, or etc. But the fact is, they aren’t secure. And just because they are willing to sacrifice strangers, that they don’t know, to the tender mercies of released terrorist or just pro-terrorist propaganda originating from GitMo, doesn’t mean that they are increasing their security from their own government.

    I wouldn’t suggest this logic be adapted by those interested in efficiency and good results. It is not even enlightened self-interest.

  17. alphie Says:

    “Known guilty folks,” Ymar?

    Who decided they were guilty?

    The trial is the point here, not the straw man of how long we can hold actual terrorists.

  18. Good Ole Charlie Says:

    Fer Gawd Sakes’ Alphie…

    If the guy has pointed a gun at you and pulled or tried to pull the trigger, you have an absolute right – known as self-preservation – to waste him on the spot. Period – that’s all she wrote.

    Take no prisoners sounds like common sense to me.

    And “collateral damage” considerations be damned…

    “Either you or me, my friend.”…words to live by (literally).

  19. alphie Says:

    Wow, Charlie,

    You do realize that most of the people we’re holding in Gitmo and elsewhere were dragged out of tea houses or their beds and turned over to us for cash money, don’t you?

    The only “proof” of their guilt is the word of someone who was desperate to exchange a warm body for $5000.

    I don’t think your John Wayne rationalization applies to them…or does it?

  20. Ymarsakar Says:

    The only “proof” of their guilt is the word of someone who was desperate to exchange a warm body for $5000.

    The proof behind your belief is that you heard all this from….. Special Forces working with the Afghans?

    Who decided they were guilty?

    Who let you decide that they were mostly taken from tea houses and are innocent?

  21. alphie Says:

    dod.milDon’t take my word for it, Ymar,

    Here’s the transcripts of the military tribunals that were held before the court shut them down:


    My favorite is the guy who had been in jail for four years because his name was on a list.

    He pointed out that he had a very common name, in fact, there were four other people in Gitmo with the same name.

    Back to your cage was the judgement.

    What an embarrassment.

    19 months to go.

  22. Lee Says:

    Alphie forgot to mention the “tea house” guy admitted he had trained in Afghanistan for deployment to Chechnya.

  23. alphie Says:

    Many people were dragged out of tea houses and sold to us, Lee.

    In the instance you mention, I imagine St. Ronnie is spinning in his grave at the thought of America violating its basic principles to protect the Russians, though.

  24. Lee Says:

    I “imagine” he could be…
    But then again, he’s probably just laughing at your lunacy from above.
    America’s basic principles don’t apply to it’s enemies, just it’s citizens and guests. Something ol’ Ronnie knew.

  25. Lee Says:

    At least we didn’t canonize ‘Bubba the Rape’o’.

  26. Lee Says:

    Yep, if all it took to get $5,000 wampum when I’m hungry and homeless is to point the finger, I’m surprised we don’t have 500,000 detainees.

  27. Good Ole Charlie Says:


    Can’t you read, white man?

    I mentioned “If the guy has pointed a gun at you and pulled or tried to pull the trigger,…”.

    Nothing else as an illustration. How do you work Gitmo into it? sheer stupidity?

    Please stick to the hypothetical case. I make no other assertions.

    And where do you get your facts? AlQueda Central?


  28. TalkinKamel Says:

    Alphie, you have any links, or articles you can refer us to, to back up that “Kidnapped from teahouses” claim?

  29. Lee Says:

    I think he’s referring to this:


    Even wikipedia says the study is flawed.

  30. stumbley Says:

    “Alphie, you have any links, or articles you can refer us to, to back up that “Kidnapped from teahouses” claim?”

    All clearly documented at moveon.org, aljazeera.com, and cair.org, I’m sure.

  31. Richard Aubrey Says:

    We have life sentences which, for young guys, could be pretty long.
    I don’t see the problem with an indeterminate sentence.
    Problem is, when the POWs are released at the end of hostilities, the presumption was there wouldn’t be any ongoing hostilities for them to rejoin. They’d go home, get a job and everything would be okay.
    Terrs today will always have somebody to fix them up with guns and bombs. So it’s death, or life without parole, to make an analogy.
    Do the crime, do the time. If you do the crime, you don’t get to pick the time.

  32. alphie Says:


    I provided you with a Department of Defense link with the transcripts of the military tribunals that were held at Guantanamo before the courts shut them down.

    Are you saying the U.S. military is a left-wing political organization?

  33. md Says:

    if anything epitomizes the intellectual vapidity and sheer un-American quality of this site it is this post.

  34. Lee Says:

    But the ‘spin’ you’re putting on the raw data(they were ‘kidnapped from tea houses and are mostly innocent’) comes from the Seton Hall Denbeaux study, conducted by two of the detainees lawyers. Why do you suppose I referred to the ‘tea house guy’, as opposed to ‘guys’, as you insinuate.
    Are you saying wikipedia is a “right-wing” institution?

  35. Ymarsakar Says:

    Here’s the transcripts of the military tribunals that were held before the court shut them down:

    Alphie, let me tell you something. When military tribunals are shut down, that means the case is incomplete and therefore without a valid conclusion.

    And btw, you need to refer to a specific transcript, not just 20+ of them to confuse the audience with mass data garbage sets.

  36. amr Says:

    In that long ago war of the greatest generation, WWII, when we caught the enemy out of uniform attacking our troops, they were executed. No trial or imprisonment; execution pure and simple. That was what happened on the battlefield. To my knowledge, the leadership who authorized these tactics, in particular during the Battle of the Bulge, were not prosecuted. So is the leader who orders unconventional warfare subject to execution even though he was not involved in the fighting? I would say yes, but apparently that was not the case 60 years ago.

  37. Consul-At-Arms Says:

    While touring Edinburgh Castle earlier last year, I learned that it had been used to house both American and French naval prisoners captured during the American Revolution and during the Napoleonic Wars.

    They were held as prisoners of war for a VERY long time. So I have no qualms about holding AQ and Taliban “fighters” for the duration.

    If holding prisoners until the enemy capitulates (or we do) bothers the squeemish, perhaps simply trying and executing them for their grevious violations of the laws of war will suffice. That way they won’t be being held as prisoners anymore. The very facts that prevent their being considered to be legitimate Prisoners of War are by themselves war crimes.

    Get a rope!

  38. Laphie Says:

    If you are not wanting to hold them indefinitely you may always consider lobotomy. This can be done now with laser, stem cell, monoclone antibody, and nanobiting tubes.

    Removing the source of violent from the brain. This is good, no?

  39. Ursus Maritimus Says:

    “Major Reid didn’t mention San Francisco. He had one of us apes summarize the negotiated treaty of New Delhi, discuss how it ignored prisoners of war . . . and, by implication, dropped the subject forever; the armistice became a stalemate and prisoners stayed where they were — on one side; on the other side they were turned loose and, during the Disorders, made their way home — or not if they didn’t want to.

    Robert A. Heinlein, “Starship Troopers”

    I fear that ol’ Bob was more prescient than we know yet.

  40. Next Stop Lauderdale Says:

    ” how is end of the “duration” going to be determined, and are we prepared to detain people in a conflict that could easily last decades?”

    This question answers itself. Of course you keep them through the “duration.” If it is a long time or a lot of them, all the better. We need to build cheap quarters (no priavte rooms or even coops). I’d rather have them sweating it out for 10 years a GITMO than killing Marines. ………. this should be obvious to anyone that knows we are in a war, long war and must win.

  41. SDN Says:

    What people like the Alphtard won’t admit is that we are fully authorized by the Geneva conventions to shoot “unlawful combatants” on the spot…. especially when they are taken in “acts of perfidy”: fighting from inside mosques, hospitals, concealing themselves inside civilian populations, etc.

  42. Bonnie Says:

    I recall Israel sending some Palestinian guys out on the road to nowhere, and they returned to blow Israelis up. And I am thinking of all the Lebanese killed last July by Israelis (using US weapons) and all the newly bereaved relatives with an axe to grind. Where will they take that axe? And now what to do with the guys we have locked up at Gitmo….will they walk away happy campers? Oh and this latest thing reported from the UK Guardian, the Lebanese Daily Star and the US New Yorker about the US Vice-President Dick Cheney, National Security Council adviser Elliot Abrams and Prince Bandar bin Sultan agreeing to fund al Fatah al Islam aka al-Qaida in oder to pit them against Hezbolla as they are diametrically opposed. I read in the news that the UN peacekeepers are under attack in Lebanon. People have been killed with US support. More blowback. The world will be calling us U.S. of blowback A. I mean sheesh, seems like we are always killing the wrong people and pissing off their relatives. We are turing into Israel.

  43. douglas Says:

    I’m just trying to understand why anyone thinks these guys deserve better treatment than german spies captured in the states on sabotage missions in WWII. Out of uniform, engaged in hostilities, you got nothing, end of issue. If we even let you live (and generally, I’m for that) consider yourself lucky.

    As for Maher Arar, if mistakes were made, blame the terrorists. Their very methodology (concealing themselves by posing as civilians) forces these things to happen. It is by design, and the sooner you realize that, the better off we’ll all be. They work our ‘weaknesses’ against us, our ethics, or moral standards- of which they possess none. Back off on these issues, and they continue to erode our ability to defend ourselves, contine to chip away at our very existence.

    In the meantime, we fiddle with issues of whether we called them ‘illegal enemy combatants’ or just ‘enemy combatants’. Ridiculous. How about we just go back to calling them spys, sappers, sabotours… whichever applies.

  44. Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Says:

    I’m against any US soldiers killing folks with their hands up, truly trying to surrender.

    I’m MORE against assuming the terrorists are trying to surrender and allowing them to suicide kill themselves and those nearby. I’m pretty sure this has already happened, more than once even.

    Alphie neo-troll is correct about the need for some kind of trial, for those who surrender and those who are captured by non-Americans (and sold? really? how many?). Every prisoner who surrenders on the battlefield should be noted, with the commander of the particular battle, and the post-battle report including the names of the prisoners. In the dozens, at most (so far).

    The presumption of guilt is the most key issue, not the “trial”. Fingerprints, blood samples (& DNA) should be taken as well as foreign weapons. Illegal combatants, whose prints or sweat (?) or blood traces are on weapons, should be rapidly found guilty and become “illegal combatant detainees”. With no more, and possibly fewer, rights than POWs — since they refuse to wear uniforms.

    Any who move suspiciously in surrender should be shot, if deemed a possible threat — in the judgement of the local soldier.

    Interrogation should include significant sleep deprivation as well as frequent video taped questioning sessions.

    They should be held until they are deemed to be no further danger to others, or until all the ME countries are functioning democracies.

  45. Ymarsakar Says:

    Doug, the way I see it, the Left feels guilty over a lot of things. So they might as well try to make you feel guilty as well. They don’t want to support anything that might put blood on their hands, so they do everything possible to make sure that the blood is on the hands of terrorists and those that try to stop them. This inevitably helps terrorists by creating division and internal weakness, that is exploited by our enemies.

    The concept of guilt, is what powers many actions of the rich and social elite in Leftist circles. They have many methods to cope with this guilt, such as buying carbon creds. Or making you use one square of toilet paper only.

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

Monthly Archives


Ace (bold)
AmericanDigest (writer’s digest)
AmericanThinker (thought full)
Anchoress (first things first)
AnnAlthouse (more than law)
AtlasShrugs (fearless)
AugeanStables (historian’s task)
Baldilocks (outspoken)
Barcepundit (theBrainInSpain)
Beldar (Texas lawman)
BelmontClub (deep thoughts)
Betsy’sPage (teach)
Bookworm (writingReader)
Breitbart (big)
ChicagoBoyz (boyz will be)
Contentions (CommentaryBlog)
DanielInVenezuela (against tyranny)
DeanEsmay (conservative liberal)
Donklephant (political chimera)
Dr.Helen (rights of man)
Dr.Sanity (thinking shrink)
DreamsToLightening (Asher)
EdDriscoll (market liberal)
Fausta’sBlog (opinionated)
GayPatriot (self-explanatory)
HadEnoughTherapy? (yep)
HotAir (a roomful)
InFromTheCold (once a spook)
InstaPundit (the hub)
JawaReport (the doctor is Rusty)
LegalInsurrection (law prof)
RedState (conservative)
Maggie’sFarm (centrist commune)
MelaniePhillips (formidable)
MerylYourish (centrist)
MichaelTotten (globetrotter)
MichaelYon (War Zones)
Michelle Malkin (clarion pen)
Michelle Obama's Mirror (reflections)
MudvilleGazette (milblog central)
NoPasaran! (behind French facade)
NormanGeras (principled leftist)
OneCosmos (Gagdad Bob’s blog)
PJMedia (comprehensive)
PointOfNoReturn (Jewish refugees)
Powerline (foursight)
ProteinWisdom (wiseguy)
QandO (neolibertarian)
RachelLucas (in Italy)
RogerL.Simon (PJ guy)
SecondDraft (be the judge)
SeekerBlog (inquiring minds)
SisterToldjah (she said)
Sisu (commentary plus cats)
Spengler (Goldman)
TheDoctorIsIn (indeed)
Tigerhawk (eclectic talk)
VictorDavisHanson (prof)
Vodkapundit (drinker-thinker)
Volokh (lawblog)
Zombie (alive)

Regent Badge