Jewish World Review Jan. 23, 2002/ 10 Shevat, 5762

Wesley Pruden

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No beards, no fleas,
and unhappy allies -- THE Europeans haven't contributed much to the war against terror - some of them are eager never to contribute much to any of the wars to save their civilization - but they get an A for carping.

Carping at America, in fact, is the national sport of most of the wretched refuse on the European shores. Nobody does it better.

Even some Englishmen. Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, had a hot flash when he saw photographs of the brave al Qaeda and Taliban lads, imprisoned at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, all nice and clean (more or less) and shorn of their beards, fleas and all. "I have asked our officials in Guantanamo Bay to establish with America the circumstances in which these photographs were taken." The circumstances look clear enough: the prisoners, in neat orange jumpsuits, are kneeling as if in prayer, behind chain-link fences topped with razor wire, beseeching Allah to strike men like Mr. Straw dead.

Robin Cook, a former British foreign secretary, indulged in sarcasm to mock Donald Rumsfeld as "a man of robust views." And in Amsterdam, where nothing is abnormal and a high value is placed on imaginative depravity, the Dutch foreign minister patronized George W. Bush: "In the fight [against terrorism], we need to uphold our norms and values. That applies to prisoners, too."

Some of the newspapers, even in Britain, which is not actually in Europe but seems determined to become a province of Germany and France as a piece of the European Union, are in high dudgeon over what the editorialists imagine is brutal treatment of the prisoners.

"These prisoners are trapped in open cages, manacled hand and foot, brutalized, tortured and humiliated," the Daily Mirror thundered. Mr. Bush is close to achieving the impossible - losing the sympathy of the civilized world for what happened in New York and Washington on September 11. The Sunday Mail screamed in a headline two inches high: "Tortured." You might think, from all the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, that Mr. Rumsfeld had imported an English chef to cook the prison meals.

Some of the tears dried yesterday with the announcement by Tony Blair, the prime minister who continues to stand up with George W., that his government had talked with three of the Taliban prisoners, Britons all, and they have no complaint, other than that they are no longer free to slay infidels, by which they mean everybody who is not them.

The prisoners are actually treated pretty well. The commanding officer at Gitmo was widely quoted as saying the Americans intend to treat the prisoners humanely, but won't make them comfortable, but they're actually living far better than they ever did in the Muslim world. Everyone gets a physical exam and a temporary cell with a concrete floor and a hot tin roof. We're taking pains to see that they get good food with nothing from the noble pig, and a new sign, with Arabic letters in enviro green and white, points the way to Mecca so they can pray as loud as they like, facing in the proper direction. Temperatures have soared over 90 degrees, and certain journalists noted that several of the prisoners, poor fellows, had been seen "mopping their brows in the Caribbean humidity." (It's just like Miami Beach, but without the beach, the beer and the girls in bikinis.)

The guards detect leaders emerging among them and one of them, a one-legged mullah, has already tried to use the frequent Muslim prayer times to rally the prisoners to mischief with the cry: "Be strong. Allah will save us." One of the guards told him to shut up and pray. Who says we're not sensitive to Islam?

It's true that the prisoners at Gitmo are living better than they ever lived at home, and are being treated far better than Americans taken prisoner could expect to be treated in the Muslim world. But it's also true that that's irrelevant. Ours is a more civilized civilization, tutored in ancient Jewish ethics and the compassion taught by Christian faith and practice. More is expected of us because we expect more of ourselves.

George W. Bush was badly served by the wise men who dreamed up the harsh early rules for the military tribunals, which may or may not be used to deal with the prisoners of Guantanamo. These rules have been considerably rewritten to bring them in line with the demands of due process on which the nation was founded. We can trust this president to do the right thing, to make sure the prisoners of Afghanistan are treated with all the respect they deserve, which may be zilch, and with the rights our conscience demands, which will be sufficient. We need no tutelage from those whose simpering weakness and swaggering indecision treated the world to two great wars in a single century.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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