The end of the Cold War and attacks of 9/11 dramatically altered the landscape of United States national security endeavors. Gone was the singular, nearly tactile threat as presented by a major superpower, and in its place was the “amorphous nature of a terrorist opponent,” (Snow, 2014, p. 112). This novel threat defied easy definition or identification, and attacked in ways to which the U.S. had grown unaccustomed. Phrases like “asymmetrical warfare” and “war on terror” were used liberally by an executive branch wholly unprepared for mitigating such a threat, and exploited to justify any number of means to achieve an end that as yet remains elusive. With the threat now subsiding, and certain means of statecraft and defense now thrust into the harsh light of public scrutiny, we are faced with questions of worth. Specifically, have the measures utilized in pursuit of national security been worth the human costs of moral ambiguity, privacy encroachment, and civil liberty infringement?
Moral Ambiguity and The Making of a POW
Inconsistent and convenient applications of the Geneva Conventions have been particularly highlighted in the delineation of prisoner of war (POW) status as it applies to terrorists. The Bush administration agreed that the Taliban were fighting for a state (Afghanistan), and as such would normally be accorded protections under the Geneva Conventions. However, they declared that both al Qaeda and Taliban fighters would, in fact, not be classified as POW’s. Because they deemed the war to be asymmetrical, they concluded they were not bound to the covenants regarding conventional war upon which the Conventions are drawn (Caseldine-Barcht, 2006, pp. 76,77). This accomplished a very important goal for the executive branch. By refusing to classify detainees as POW’s, the U.S. could interrogate prisoners far beyond the constraints of international laws. The Bush administration justified the overt inconsistency by again arguing that the “War on Terror is an unprecedented war,” (Caseldine-Bracht, 2006, p. 76). However this slanted definition brings up an important question. Even this is determined to be an “unprecedented war,” do the means of operating outside international law and norms justify the ends?
The advantage of selective application of the Convention lies in the ability for an administration to be able to justify certain activities that otherwise would be unlawful. Colin Powell attempted point out this inconsistency in his appeal to various executive branch leadership by stating, “The United States and international community have consistently held Afghanistan to its treaty obligations and identified it as a party to the Geneva Conventions” (Caseldine-Bracht, 2006, p. 77). Insinuations of hypocrisy aside, the use of prisons outside the United States failed to place the use of harsh interrogation techniques beyond American culpability (Lowenthal, 2012, p. 286). These extraterritorial arrests have...