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Mark Steyn on the way back from Gitmo

Thursday, September 28, 2006
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HH: And we begin as we do most Thursdays with columnist to the world, Mark Steyn. You can read all of Mark’s columns at www.steynonline.com, or you can order his wonderful new book, America Alone there. Mark, we find you on the road and in an airport. Are you allowed to have a water bottle?

MS: I don’t know about a water bottle. I’m not even sure I’m allowed to have an on-air conversation. That’s probably in breach of some new Homeland Security procedure. I’m at LaGuardia, on my way back from a very enjoyable day trip to Gitmo, down in Cuba, to have a look at the alleged, or I guess I should say, alleged enemy combatants down there.

HH: Well, the alleged enemy combatants lost their habeus corpus rights today, thanks to the steely indifference to liberty, as the Democrats would put it, of the Republican majority in the Senate. Do they appear put upon to you, Mark Steyn?

MS: No, they don’t. It’s interesting to me. They were being treated very lavishly, as you know, to Ramadan, and we at the meal that…when I was down there, that the detainees eat, and very proudly, we were told, as they served up this fantastic meal, that it featured homemade pastries, especially cooked for the detainees for Ramadan. So I can tell you something. They eat much better food…I’ve eaten MRE’s with American troops in Iraq, and these detainees eat much better than American troops do. Whether that is the right approach to fighting this war, I don’t know whether…I think that there are legitimate differences of opinion about that.

HH: Now Mark Steyn, what time did you get down to Gitmo? Just this morning?

MS: No, no. I was in Gitmo yesterday, but it’s, as you can appreciate, it’s quite a long flight down, quite a long flight back. And it was interesting to me. I think they do a terrific job. I was rather taken aback, I think, as anybody is, if they followed all this hysteria about the alleged torture, and all the rest of it going on down there. These guys have fantastic facilities, certainly better facilities than anyone in any previous war has ever enjoyed. And of course, it’s also the situation, a unique situation, in which this is the only war in which enemy combatants are released back to their home countries before the war is over. That’s never happened in any previous war.

HH: We’re going to be talking later in the program a lot about the House and Senate bill. Incredibly, 160 Democrats in the House voted against the military tribunals, Mark Steyn. What do you make of that?

MS: Well, I think unfortunately, America in particular, but also a lot of the rest of the world, has an incredibly legalized culture. And at one level, the domestic level, it’s part of the sort of O.J.-fication of society, that we think that everybody, even an enemy soldier captured in battle should enjoy the same rights as some guy who’s been accused in some tax fraud case. And he should have the right to his own legal representation, and endless appeals. And at the same time, I think also on the Democrats’ point of view, it’s that they are absurdly in this position where they would have no problem, really, with an international court, a Yugoslav or a London-type tribunal, passing judgment on these people, if it was some international court at the Hague. But they’re not comfortable with American justice, and that’s what is surprising to me. I think on the whole, these guys are going to be processed far more effectively by American military courts than they are by Dutch judges, or Fijian judges, or whatever crazy combination you happen to get, whichever international court they came up by. I think that fundamentally, the Democrats just have a wrong view of this.

HH: Mark Steyn, did you get a chance to talk to any of the interrogators at Gitmo?

MS: Yes, I did, actually. (laughing) I spoke briefly to a rather lovely female interrogator. As you know, Muslim young men often have complicated attitudes to women. And they…and she, in fact, found that although Saudi males were incredibly hostile to her the first couple of times she interrogates them, that they’ve been deprived of female company for so long, that actually, they warm up to her by about the third or fourth meeting. So I found the interrogation, I think…I had the opportunity to kind of eavesdrop on a couple of interrogations, which are certainly surreal, if you’re used to this sort of anti-American propaganda, where the guys are in dungeons and chains, chained to these little, wooden chairs under the bare light bulb, or some guys beating the information out of them. In fact, they’re interrogated in a La-Z-Boy recliner, which is this oddly surreal point. It’s a very unusual set up down there.

HH: What sort of questions were they being posed, Mark Steyn?

MS: Well, I think at this stage, you know, a lot of those people have been there for four and a half years. And I think it’s clear that a lot of them do take time to crack. And as far as one can tell, the trick is to go over a lot of the stuff again and again and again, catch them in some little lie, some obvious untruth, and then try to break down where the lie leads. You know, they have a lot of people…this is big, global network. And you’ll be interviewing some Sudanese guy, and after months and months of interrogation, it might turn out that he has some connection to an Algerian terrorist group, or some connection to some of these fellows operating in Chechnya. It’s a very long, thinly stretched chain that they’re trying to follow.

HH: Now Mark Steyn, when they were done, do they evidence hostility towards Americans? Did you come into contact with any of the Gitmo prisoners, or just through the looking glass?

MS: Well, we came in contact with some of the Afghan ones, who turn out to be the most compliant. And I think there’s a reason for that, and that unfortunately, the Afghan war against the Soviets would have been a conventional nationalist struggle, had it not been for the fact that Zbigniew Brzezinski decided to finance the deal through the Saudis and the Pakistanis, who turned it into a jihad, religious crusade. But even so, the Afghan guys are apparently the most agreeable and affable and friendly ones in the joint. The Saudis and Yemenis are far more hostile. And I must say, these are the fattest Afghans I’ve ever seen, because they’re on this kind of 4,700 calorie a day diet, which I don’t quite understand. So instead of that rather sort of lean, wily Afghan look, these are kind of big, bloated, chubby Afghans. And if they ever did want to go back to jihad, they’re going to have to shed about…(laughing)

HH: They’re going to have to go into training.

MS: Yes.

HH: But what about the general idea that there have been three suicides, and riots down there, and that it’s very difficult on the staff at Guantanamo Bay? Did you see any evidence of fatigue by the guards or the people involved?

MS: No, but you have to be scrupulously careful. I mean, they are…they do get information out of that camp. Before we went in to the actual compounds where the prisoners are held, everybody, the guards, the general, the admiral who runs the place, everybody removes any kind of thing, nametag, or anything else on your person, that might identify your name, because they have had situations where originally, they were warning…the thing about this where people find out who it is they’re talking to. They try to identify someone by name, and then they threaten their children and their families. That is a real problem. It’s not a normal camp in that sense at all. It’s not like Colditz in the second world war, where they’re planning to escape. These guys have no…do not want to escape. They just want to kill their guards. So they had to rebuild one block, simply because the guys dismantled the sink, and used the…and weaponized the spring in the faucet. And that block became unusable, because they simply wanted to get close enough to a guard to plunge this thing through his neck and kill him. And there’s no purpose for this. They’re not doing it in hopes of escaping and getting back to the war. It’s just purely to kill as many infidels as he can, even in the camp.

HH: Well, Mark Steyn, when you return to the States, I look forward to an additional brief. We’re starting to lose your signal too much. So I appreciate it. Mark Steyn at www.steynonline.com, for an account, no doubt, of what went on at Gitmo.

End of interview.

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