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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Al Qaeda's Newst Recruiter

California Senator Dianne Feinstein recently sponsored an amendment to the 2008 Defense Authorization Bill which would close down the Defense Department’s detention center in Guantanamo Bay and prohibit the practice of rendition, in which prisoners are shipped to states whose interrogation techniques are more, well, direct. The effect of the Feinstein Amendment would be to integrate jihadist detainees into the federal prison system where they would receive further legal protections. Presumably, the good folks at the American Bar Association would rush to the defense of these misunderstood individuals and put up a spirited legal defense in the name of the rule of law.

What in fact the Feinstein Amendment shows is that a significant portion of the American legislative community is dangerously ignorant to even the most fundamental aspects of counter-insurgency warfare. If the Feinstein Amendment passes—which, fortunately, it likely will not—al Qaeda and other jihadist groups would be irreparably strengthened in what would be a cataclysmic abdication of all semblance of rational policy.

Reasonable minds can differ on subjects such as Guantanamo Bay and the legal status of jihadist detainees. The legal community, while misguided, can be patriotic while insisting that greater access to legal resources be provided to detainees. What is not patriotic, nor rational, is granting al Qaeda unhindered access to the ideal recruitment demographic on a permanent basis. The unwavering lesson of every insurgency in history is that prison is the ideal recruitment ground for insurgent factions. Prisoners are necessarily in constant communication with each other, and all it takes is one radical to evangelize the message of radicalism amongst a population which is already at odds with the government.

Simply put, there is no better recruiting ground than prison. Every insurgency—from the IRA famously training and conducting exercises behind British prison bars in full defiance of powerless guards, to the terrible school of French Indo-China, to the FLN radicalizing common Algerian criminals against the French, has directly utilized the unparalleled access that prison provides to convert and radicalize its target demographic. If you put members of terrorist cells in standard prisons, they will recruit more followers. There’s no gray area here: either we want to contribute further to the propagation of jihadist ideology or we wish to isolate the Islamist prophets of doom from the general population—especially the segments which would most receptive to these ideas.

The genius of Guantanamo Bay is that it segregates insurgents from the rest of prison population. Individuals in Guantanamo (with the few inevitable exceptions) are already radicalized and consequently no harm is done in detaining them. However, the minute that radical population is mixed with common inmates, the jihadists will have scored a tremendous victory on a scale far greater than September 11th ever was. If one purposely set out to loose a counter-insurgency, the absolute first thing one would do would be to provide guerrillas the human resources that are the sinews of any insurgency. Senator Feinstein, has, unwittingly, proposed this very thing.