Michael Walzer: U.S. Treatment of Enemy Combatants

President Bush, Walzer says, has created a new category of prisoner.
  • Transcript


Question: Has the U.S. handled enemy combatants appropriately?

Michael Walzer:  Well, the Bush administration seems to have created a new legal category of an illegal combatant or an enemy combatant who isn’t entitled to prison-of-war status which has many rights. If you capture a prisoner of war, it's a contract. The prisoner says "I will give up fighting" and you say "I will provide you with benevolent quarantine for the duration of the war." And benevolent quarantine is a legal status that has rights. We’re denying, the Bush administration denies that the people captured, the people being held in Guantanamo; they are not prisoners of war. They are also not criminals, suspected criminals or accused criminals because accused criminals also have lots of rights in our political system. They have a right to an attorney; they have a right to know the charges against them; they have a right not to be tortured; they have all kinds of rights. And so there is this new status of a person who has no rights, or no rights that fit into any of the paradigmatic condition, legal condition, legal statuses. And that’s immoral, illegal, unconstitutional I am sure and playing wrong. There can’t be a human being without some rights in the world. There can’t be a legal status which doesn’t entail some set of rights, so, if in fact terrorists are, if there are good reasons for treating terrorists not like prisoners of war, then we should treat them as criminals, as murderers and we should bring them into trial. If we are unprepared to treat them that way, then we should treat them as prisoners of war. Or if there are very good reasons for doing, so then you create a new legal status, but it has to be a status with rights, with clearly recognized rights that make sense in the international community, because we don’t operate alone, and we want our soldiers when captured, and also our secret agents when captured, to be treated as people with rights.