Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Rights of Guantanamo Detainees

Since 9/11, the United States has held prisoners from Iraq, Afghanistan and other terror training sites at the US military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The number of prisoners was over 700 at its highest point and now is just over 400. Many opponents of the Bush Administration in the United States and around the world believe that the continued detention of the Gitmo detainees is immoral and illegal under US and international law.

Much of the opposition regarding US law focuses on the lack of habeas corpus rights for detainees. Habeas corpus is the right to have a prisoner appear before the court and be shown why he is detained.

There are several problems with applying habeas corpus rights to the Gitmo detainees. They are not US citizens. They were not captured in the United States. They are not prisoners of civilian authorities. The detainees were captured by the US or allied military forces in a foreign country while they were fighting a war even though they were not part of an organized military unit and were not wearing military uniforms. This means that they are not subject to US civilian law and do not have the rights of US citizens. The few detainees who are US citizens would have rights under US law, especially those captured within the US.

Treatment of prisoners-of-war is regulated by the Geneva Convention. During WWII, large numbers of German and Italian prisoners were held in prison camps in the United States. None of these prisoners was given habeas corpus rights and all were held prisoner until the end of the war. Those who were found to be guilty of war crimes were given military trials.

Gitmo detainees do not qualify for prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Convention, however. Because the detainees were not part of organized military units, they would only be considered POWs in very limited circumstances. The Convention does state that “Inhabitants of a non-occupied territory, who on the approach of the enemy spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces without having had time to form themselves into regular armed units” are lawful combatants “provided they carry arms openly and respect the laws and customs of war" (Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention).

Many of the Gitmo detainees were members of paramilitary groups prior to the Coalition invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Many others later became members of militia or terrorist groups much later and had time to organize. This would exclude them from POW status under the Geneva Convention. Articles 5 and 42 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, state that unlawful combatants may be deprived of communication and interned. They may also be tried for their actions.

Some Gitmo prisoners have been paroled and released. Of these, several have been confirmed to have returned to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. If these parolees are recaptured, their rights under the Geneva Convention are forfeited.

Gitmo prisoners have alleged that while they were US prisoners they were subjected to various methods of torture and harassment. The Geneva Convention stipulates that all prisoners, whether they are lawful or unlawful combatants, should be treated humanely. Torture is also illegal under US law and any Americans who torture prisoners can be and are being prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It must be understood that captured Al Qaeda training manuals instruct captured to terrorists to complain of torture and mistreatment and engage in hunger strikes in order to win propaganda victories in the media. We should understand that when detainees claim they were tortured by US authorities, they are doing exactly as they were taught in the terrorist training camps.

The US Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld (2004) that the detention of unlawful combatants is legal, but that detainees can challenge their detentions. The Supreme Court also found in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld (2006) that the Bush Administration’s first attempt at military tribunals for the detainees was uncontitutional and that the Geneval Convention article pertaining to civil wars applied. Congress passed the Military Commissions Act in 2006 to authorize military tribunals for the detainees. The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on Al Odah vs. United States which seeks to apply habeas corpus rights to the detainees and give federal, not military, courts jurisdiction.

The problem with Guantanamo is the perception, due to Al Qaeda propaganda disseminated through the western media, that the detainees are innocent people who are being detained and tortured without regard to US and international law. This is not true. The US detention of prisoners at Guantanamo without habeas corpus rights is legal under US and international law. The prisoners at Guantanamo are dangerous terrorists who would return to combat against US troops if they were released. It is important to keep these prisoners confined until they no longer present a danger to the United States or its allies.

The best solution seems to be to close the prison facility at Guantanamo and house the prisoners at a less publicized location. The prisoners should also face military tribunals to confirm the danger that they pose. The results of the tribunals and the evidence against the detainees should be made public to the maximum extent possible given national security considerations. Shining a light on the process and showing the world how dangerous these terrorists really are can only help the United States retain the moral high ground necessary to win the war on terror.


Clinton and Obama Realize the Truth About Taxes

WASHINGTON — Both Democratic presidential candidates, who promise to curb the influence of corporate lobbyists in Washington, helped enact narrowly tailored tax breaks sought by major campaign contributors.
-USA Today

USA Today is reporting that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both used their influence as senators to win tax breaks for companies in their home states. The revelation that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama passed tax breaks for their contributors is proof of the fact that their desire to raise taxes would be harmful to the country.

Obama's campaign had it right when they said that tax breaks "lower costs for customers and create jobs." If they trule believe that to be the case, then why not allow the whole country to reap the benefits instead of select companies in their home states?

If tax breaks create jobs and lower costs, then tax increases must eliminate jobs, raise costs, and generally be bad for consumers. To raise taxes or let the Bush tax cuts expire would cause the economy to shrink and raise the chances of a recession.


Monday, February 25, 2008

The Problem With Clinton and Obama

The Democratic presidential primary is down to two leading candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The party is split almost evenly between the two and the competition for the nomination is fierce. The nation is focused on who would be better for the party and who would be better for the country.

The two candidates are remarkably similar. They both lack experience in leadership roles and both have short resumes when it comes to government service. Both were elected to the senate in 2000 and re-elected in 2006. More importantly, the platforms of both candidates share many of the same ill-advised planks.

There are several areas in which the proposed policies of Clinton and Obama would be disastrous for the United States. The most obvious is that both candidates have repeatedly voiced their intention to end the war in Iraq.

The Iraq War can end in only one of two ways. The first possibility is that the United States can defeat the terrorists and create a free and stable Iraq. The second is that the United States can unilaterally withdraw and leave Iraq at the mercy of Al Qaeda and Iranian backed Shiite extremists.

If US troops leave Iraq, the war would not end immediately. The terrorist groups, which today are largely defeated and demoralized, would regroup. Fighting would erupt between Sunni terrorists and Shiite militias for control of the country. The war would most likely spread throughout the region as Saudi Arabian forces intervene to protect Iraqi Sunnis, Iranian forces assist Shiites and Turkish troops attack Kurds. The probable outcome would be that Al Qaeda or Iran would gain control of Iraq and it huge oil reserves. This would put the United States economy at the mercy of Muslim extremists as well as providing financing for either terrorist attacks against US targets or Iranian nuclear ambitions.

Clinton and Obama’s second problem area is with their proposals for government mandated health care. A government takeover of the healthcare industry would mean that the government is taking control of 17% of the gross national product. This is an unprecedented government foray into the marketplace.

The plans for federalized healthcare are based on the mistaken assumption that the government can solve the problem when in reality, as Ronald Reagan said, the government is the problem. Government mandates for health insurers have been a prime reason that health insurance costs have increased. If insurers were given the freedom to tailor policies to consumer demands, prices would drop and more consumers would choose to buy health insurance. Instead, state governments pass laws that force costs to rise. Some of these laws require that Viagra be covered, that insurance pay for chiropractors and massages, and that pregnancy coverage be provided regardless of whether the consumer wants it. Simple policies with high deductibles for major medical coverage are increasingly hard to find.

Similarly, current tort law makes it extremely expensive to practice medicine. Rising malpractice insurance premiums and large punitive judgments have driven many doctors into other fields and have discouraged many students from pursuing medical careers. In several states, OB/GYNs have almost been driven completely out of business. Even if a doctor stays in business, they often choose to run more tests than necessary to cover themselves in the event of a lawsuit.

People who see government action as a panacea usually do not think about the unintended consequences of government actions. To control healthcare costs, the government would have to impose price controls on the industry. When price controls are imposed, people will realize that they won’t be able to make as much money as a doctor and decide that the years of college and residency are not worth the low pay. When the supply of doctors decreases, it will inevitably lead to the rationing of healthcare and long waits for treatment. This scenario has occurred repeatedly in countries where the government provides free healthcare.

Nothing that the federal government does suggests that it would be able to provide healthcare more efficiently or more cheaply than private business. Instead, the opposite is true. Veteran’s Administration hospitals have been plagued by scandals of poor conditions and long waits for treatment. Other government organizations, from the post office to the DMV, are equally poor examples of customer service and efficiency.

The Democratic plans for the repairing the economy have a similarly utopian view of government action. There have been proposals for a freeze on mortgage interest rates, a moratorium on foreclosures, and a government bailout of homeowners and mortgage companies coupled with strict new regulations on lending. These plans again fail to realize that relaxed lending rules are partly the result of government desires to make home ownership available for more people.

The current economic problems are the result of a free economy in which mortgage companies made loans to people who were not likely to be able to repay them. The consumers who accepted the loans are equally at fault because they did not reconcile the terms of their mortgages with their ability to repay. In many cases, the mortgage problems are the end result of years of financing a lifestyle with debt. Both the mortgage companies and the consumers made bad decisions, but neither was forced to become a party to the mortgage.

This is what the free market is all about. If people and companies are given the freedom to choose, some will make bad choices. People and companies who make bad choices need to suffer the consequences of those choices so that they will learn not to make the same mistake in the future. To teach that the government will use the money taxed from people who made good choices to bail out people who made choices sends the wrong message. Such policies perpetuate bad behavior and cause problems in the economy rather than alleviating them.

Finally, Clinton and Obama are also alike in their desire to pay for their programs by instituting new taxes ostensibly on the rich. The problem here is that taxes hurt the economy as well. Over the past hundred years, taxes have been cut by Presidents Coolidge, Kennedy, Reagan and Bush. Each time tax revenues increased in spite of the fact that tax rates were reduced. When taxes are increased, the opposite is true. The reason is simple. Tax cuts allow people and companies to keep more of their earnings and encourage productivity and investment, while tax hikes remove money from the economy.

Countries around the world are moving toward free economies and lower tax rates so it is ironic that one of the major parties of the United States is advocating a move toward the types of polices that have been proven failures in numerous communist and socialist countries. Many former Soviet bloc nations in Eastern Europe are experiencing booming economies due to their low flat taxes. The difference can even be seen from state to state in the US among states with high tax rates, such as Michigan, California, and New York, when compared with states that have no income tax, such as Tennessee, Texas, South Dakota, and Nevada. The high tax states have sluggish economies, high costs of living, and many are experiencing a decline in population.

When Americans go to the polls, they should remember that change in itself is not a worthy goal. Democratic policies can lead to higher gas costs, global insecurity, rising healthcare costs and declining benefits, higher taxes, and a shrinking economy. The United States should not repeat the mistakes that communist and socialist countries have made over the last hundred years. Instead, we should renew our commitment to free markets, lower taxes, and personal freedom, including the freedom to make your own mistakes, The best thing that the government can do for the economy is to get out of the way.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The US Military and Relief Efforts

The primary mission of the United States armed forces is to defend the security and interests of the United States around the world. Since its inception, the US Army, followed by the Navy, Marines, and Air Force have fought for freedom around the world. Hundreds of thousands of American men and boys have died in remote corners of the world to defend their homes and the freedom of people that they have never seen.

The capabilities of the military do not end with searching out and destroying the enemies of freedom and justice, however. The same dedication and skill combined with state of the art military hardware make the military a valuable resource when it comes to aiding people in need, regardless of whether their crisis is the result of a natural disaster or a war.

In our own country, the National Guard has long been a valuable resource in domestic natural disasters. Countless victims of hurricanes and tornados have received assistance from the National Guard. It is not unusual to see National Guardsmen stacking sandbags along swollen creeks and rivers as floodwaters rise. Guard helicopters pluck survivors from the ocean and stranded hikers from backcountry trails. The National Guard has become so synonymous with disaster relief that many seem to have forgotten that it is primarily a part of the armed forces and not a charity group.

Around the world, the US military has aided numerous nations following natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, and famines. US Air Force cargo planes routinely airlift relief supplies and food around the world on short notice. One of the largest and most famous instances of US military humanitarian assistance is the Indonesian tsunami of 2004. Countries around the world contributed to the relief efforts, but only the US military had the ships, airplanes, and helicopters available to actually go to areas where virtually all infrastructure was destroyed.

The US military can also be effective in assisting countries recovering from war. US forces under the Marshall Plan were largely responsible for rebuilding the parts of the world devastated by World War II. This included aiding millions of people displaced and left homeless by the war.

Relief efforts can be done by the military itself or with the help of nonmilitary relief agencies. Many of these areas are still somewhat dangerous and relief agencies often rely on the military for security. Additionally, the military has the manpower and equipment to finish construction projects rapidly. US military efforts to rebuild and improve Iraqi schools and hospitals have been largely ignored by the media. A major problem in the past has been that insurgent and militia groups moved in behind US forces and often destroyed their work.

The US strategy in Iraq under General Petraeus is one of working with the Iraqi civilians. US forces now clear terrorists from an area and then stay there to keep them away. This strategy can work easily alongside aid groups who want to help Iraqi civilians as well. Aid groups and armies have worked together in the past in war torn countries such as Bosnia and Kosovo.

When considering US military assistance to war torn countries, it must be remembered that the top priority of the US military must remain the national security of the United States. The United States does not have the resources to help victims of every war and disaster around the world. The US must target its efforts to areas of greatest need and areas of its national interest.

To truly help the people of war torn countries, the most important thing is to stop the fighting. We must also remember that true peace is not merely the absence of fighting, but requires freedom and justice. The best way to ensure that the people can get the help they need is to defeat forces that thrive on terror, hunger, fear, and intimidation. When that happens, relief agencies will be able to work without fear of attack by terrorists and insurgents, and the US military will be able to devote more resources to rebuilding, rather than hunting terrorists.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Taxes and the Economy

The Democrats and Republicans have recently agreed to an economic stimulus package that includes tax rebates for many Americans. The idea of giving the taxpayers some of their own money back is a tacit admission that more leaving money in the hands of taxpayers is good for the economy.

In fact, tax cuts almost always prove beneficial to the economy. Since the 1920s, tax rates were cut by Presidents Coolidge, Kennedy, Reagan, and Bush. In each case, instead of costing the government money, tax revenues actually increased after the tax rates were decreased.

To understand why this is true, think of a tax as a punishment. For example, “sin taxes” on alcohol and tobacco are meant to decrease the use of those substances. Environmentalists have recently proposed increasing the federal gas tax in an effort to curb carbon fuel consumption. An income tax works the same way. As tax rates rise, people are discouraged from being productive. Why should they work more since, when they do, the government takes an increasingly large share of their paycheck?

When tax rates are decreased, the opposite is true. People are encouraged to work more and earn more money because they keep more of what they earn. The government’s share, although smaller in percentage, is greater in terms of actual dollars, because the taxpayer’s paycheck is larger.

The benefits of tax cuts do not stop there, however. Since the taxpayers have more disposable income, they are able to spend more. Higher spending helps businesses to earn profits, which are taxed, but which are also reinvested into the business. As the business grows, it hires more employees. More people earning a paycheck means more tax money for the government as well.

If lower taxes are such a good thing for the economy, then why is lowering taxes so controversial? One reason is that unless you look closely at the data, you won’t realize that lower tax rates means more tax revenues. Another reason is that many politicians use class warfare and a “tax the rich” philosophy to win votes.

Taxing the rich is a bad idea for several reasons. First, in the US, the people in various income groups are constantly churning. The people who earn the least frequently see their earnings rise dramatically, while the people who earn the most often see their earnings decrease. There are no static rich and poor classes in the US.

Second, the rich already pay a disproportionately large share of federal income taxes. According to the US Treasury, the top 5% of taxpayers earn 30% of all income, but pay 53% of the taxes. The top 1% of taxpayers pays 33% of all taxes. The top 50% of taxpayers pay over 90% of taxes. On the other hand, after President Bush’s tax cuts “for the rich” (according to his opponents), the share of the bottom 50% of taxpayers fell from 4.1% to 3.4%.

Finally, the “tax the rich” philosophy imagines that the rich do nothing but live off of the work of the rest of society. This is not true. The rich are consumers and producers. They buy houses, clothes, cars and other items and services, which help to create jobs in companies that make and sell consumer items.

The rich are also producers. Most wealthy Americans are nouveau riche, not old money. Most wealthy Americans are rich because they worked hard and earned it. They created companies that, in turn, created jobs. These companies benefited society as a whole as well as their owners.

If the rich are taxed at higher rates, then they have fewer dollars left to either spend or invest into their businesses. Taxes that target the rich often end up hurting the poor. For example, when Congress passed a luxury tax on items such as yachts and expensive jewelry in the 1990s, the rich simply stopped buying those items from American companies. The jewelry industry lost 330 jobs and the yacht industry was nearly destroyed, costing 7,600 workers their jobs.

An even better solution than tax cuts would be to enact a tax plan that does not punish productive behavior. The Fair Tax, championed by presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, is such a tax. The Fair Tax eliminates income and payroll taxes in favor of a national sales tax. A prebate is paid to all Americans in an amount up to the poverty level. This ensures that Americans in poverty will pay no taxes. Workers keep all of their pay with no taxes deducted. There are no tax deductions, shelters, or returns to fill out. You simply pay a tax when you buy a product.

A plan such as the Fair Tax would tax consumption, so the wealthy would continue to be taxed heavier than people who consume less. People who wish to save money would be able to save more since no tax would be withheld from their pay.

Most importantly, with the penalties for production removed, the US economy would flourish. The tax burden on existing US companies would be removed stimulating growth, but foreign companies would also flock to invest in the US due to the business friendly tax climate.

If this sounds farfetched, it is not. Several countries in Eastern Europe, such as Slovakia, have already enacted business friendly flat taxes. As a result, their economies are booming. These countries have learned that Socialism is a drag on the economy and are running towards capitalism and free markets, while Western Europe and the US march towards socialism.

Easing the tax burden of businesses and individuals is one of the easiest ways that the government can stimulate the economy. Tax cuts are helpful, but our burdensome tax code is in dire need of overhaul. If we delay too long, we may find ourselves left behind by the rest of the world.


Saturday, February 2, 2008

Collateral Damage and the War on Terror

The accidental killing of civilians is an unavoidable part of modern warfare. In spite of huge technological advances in weapon systems and weapons delivery, in any war civilians are going to be killed accidentally. The fact that the United States frets about the accidental deaths of civilians shows the difference between our soldiers and our enemies, who intentionally kill civilians as a central part of their strategy.

In World War II, targeting the civilian population of the enemy was a basic strategy for both sides. During the blitzkrieg of 1939 and 1940, German forces bombed refugee columns in order to sow panic and block roads to defending armies. Similarly, Japanese forces bombed residential areas in many Chinese cities. The British strategy of area bombing laid waste to numerous German cities, most famously Dresden, in which as many as 40,000 people may have died in a single night. The most heinous killing of civilians was by the Nazis in their death camps, which specifically targeted civilian Jews, gypsies, Slavs, and other " unter Menschen " for genocide.

In contrast, as American weapons technology has advanced, US strategy has increasingly focused on limiting civilian deaths as much as possible. The advent of the microchip in the 1960s brought precision guided munitions, smart bombs, into widespread use during the Vietnam War. Smart bombs had several advantages. First, they made it possible to destroy heavily defended targets with fewer missions and loss of life to American pilots. Second, they also meant fewer bombs landing off target in civilian areas and fewer civilian deaths.

Even before the use of smart bombs became widespread in Vietnam, restrictive rules of engagement for bombing the North Vietnamese limited the ability of US forces to prosecute the war and ultimately prolonged the fighting and led to an unfavorable conclusion. These rules of engagement were not specifically to prevent civilian deaths, but to prevent Soviet and Chinese intervention. The limits on our forces served only to damage morale and cost the lives of many American soldiers and airman, as well as many Vietnamese civilians through the prolonged fighting.

Today, smart bombs have led to illusion that we can fight a bloodless war. Visions of infrared camera from the Gulf War of a single bomb destroying a bridge just behind a truck driven by the "luckiest man in Iraq" have taught people that we can destroy the enemy's weapons and infrastructure without hurting anyone. To some extent, this may even be true. During the invasion of Iraq, Coalition forces never even shut down the Baghdad electrical grid.

The problem with this strategy is that our enemies have adapted to our surgical tactics. Instead of fighting a conventional army with tanks, trucks, and infantry, we are now faced with an enemy that hides among the civilian population. This strategy is similar to the pre -1968 Viet Cong strategy in Vietnam. The enemy idea is that by hiding among the people, they can intimidate them into resisting the Iraqi government, American and Coalition forces. When government forces make heavy-handed reprisals, civilians are killed and the populace becomes even more angry with the government. Thus, the enemy strategy holds little or no regard for the sanctity of civilian life and makes civilians little more than a commodity to be used against the government and the Americans.

The answer to this insidious enemy strategy can also be found in a history lesson from Vietnam. In the early years of Vietnam, our strategy was search and destroy. Very similar to our early Iraq strategy, US forces stayed in large fortified bases and only ventured out on short missions to attack the VC. When the US troops went back to their base, the VC would return to the countryside.

General Creighton Abrams, who succeeded General Westmoreland as head of US troops in Vietnam in 1968, changed the US strategy to one of "clear and hold." US and ARVN troops would clear areas of the Vietnamese countryside and then keep forces there instead of retreating back to their bases. This strategy was successful in eliminating the communist insurgency from most areas of Vietnam. The threat in the last few years was not from the Viet Cong, but from a conventional invasion by the North Vietnamese Army; a threat that the United States in the midst of the anti-war/peace movement was simply unwilling to face.

General David Petraeus has returned to the clear and hold strategy with his troop surge in Iraq. The strategy has proven successful over the last year with dramatic decreases in terror attacks and civilian deaths. A major goal of Iraqi government and Coalition forces has been to safeguard the civilian population.

In contrast, the strategy of al Qaeda and other insurgent groups has been to sow terror and indiscriminately kill as many civilians as possible. One of the most common methods of attack in Iraq has been the suicide bomber, which targets innocent civilians in restaurants, marketplaces, schools, places of worship, or at weddings or funerals. Coalition forces have discovered numerous terrorist torture rooms and manuals that detailed how to inflict misery on civilians. In areas of Iraq held by the terrorists, civilians were routinely killed for infractions as small as smoking or being alone with a member of the opposite sex.

The religiously motivated terrorists that we fight today may not share the secular and materialistic ideology of Saddam Hussein, but their bloodlust is no different from that of Iraq's former dictator. Since Saddam rose to power in the late 1960s, he is estimated to have killed approximately two million people including combat deaths from the Iran-Iraq War, Kuwaitis, and Kurdish and Shiite dissidents. There can be no comparison between the actions of al Qaeda and Saddam on one hand, and the United States on the other.

Civilian deaths are a horrible by product of war, but are often necessary for the long-term peace and stability of a country. A few accidental deaths from misplaced bombs or inaccurate or accidental small arms fire would certainly be preferable to having the whole country at the mercy of a terrorist regime. There is a difference between the forces of the United States, who occasionally kill civilians accidentally in order to get the wolves who hide among the sheep, and the terrorists who kill as a matter of policy and strategy to intimidate. The difference should not be ignored.