When I hear U.S. officials describe the suicides of three Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay last Saturday as "asymmetric warfare" and "a good PR move," I know it's time to close that camp -- not just because of what it's doing to the prisoners but because of how it is dehumanizing the American captors.This is why the "war" on terrorists was a wrong-headed strategy from the beginning: once you declare war on people, they are put outside the moral community, and suddenly everything is justifiable and in fact necessary. The Bush Administration's rhetorical strategy - either you support perpetual war, or you're on Osama's side - wasn't merely cynical positioning. It was a sincere belief: either you believe this war makes all strategies necessary, or you want America to fail.
The American officials spoke of the dead prisoners as if they inhabited a different moral universe. That's what war does: People stop seeing their enemies as human beings and consign them to a different category. It was discomfiting to see this indifference stated so bluntly, and subsequent U.S. statements tactfully disavowed the initial ones.
The problem with wars - especially wars of revenge - is that they tend to preclude the middle ground.