Letters to the Editor

Laws Obsolete, Not Gitmo

In his recent article, Shankar Mukherji argued that the United States should shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay. I don't believe that will solve anything, because the fundamental problem with what's going on down there is not the base itself. International and U.S. laws are obsolete, having been written in a different era for a different kind of war, and only revising the law to deal with the realities of modern conflict can fix the situation.

Traditionally, some soldiers would be captured during a war. These prisoners would be treated humanely according to the Third Geneva Convention. They were not entitled to a trial of any kind: they were simply held until the end of the war. Enemy prisoners of war were entitled to treatment according to GCIII, domestic criminals were entitled to a speedy and public trial, and no one was entitled to both.

That doesn't work any more. We used to be able to avoid capturing non-combatants because they were not in uniform and did not carry weapons, while soldiers did. Today our enemies blend in with civilian populations, so whether someone is a combatant or not is often unclear.

This wouldn't be such a big deal if it looked like the wars of the twenty-first century would be clean and quick. Spending a year in a prisoner of war camp unjustly is unfortunate, but it doesn't completely destroy your life. Unfortunately, future wars are not likely to be clean or quick. Al Qaeda will be around for decades, and will likely be in direct conflict with the United States for that entire time. Hamas will be targeting Israeli civilians while using their own civilians as human shields for the foreseeable future. Twenty-first century conflicts are likely to be very long. International laws based on a notion of prisoners of war from an era when major industrial states were clashing in Europe for a few years at a time are now obsolete.

Many international laws that people seem to want to apply to our current enemies explicitly do not apply to them. GCIII applies to enemy soldiers captured in uniform, to enemy civilians in military support roles with military-issued identification, to members of militias or resistance organizations who wear a uniform or an emblem that identifies them as fighters at a distance and carry their weapons openly, and to resistance fighters whose country was attacked suddenly such that they didn't have time to prepare proper uniforms. None of these are true of either al Qaeda fighters or Iraqi insurgents. People suspected of being in those groups are sitting in limbo at Guantanamo, but they are also in limbo with respect to international law.

International laws and the laws of individual countries locked in conflict need to be revised to reflect the essential rights of civilians and the realities of modern wars. Capturing suspects and holding them until the end of the war won't work, because that will be a very long time for someone who may be innocent to rot in prison. Requiring a trial with the same standards of proof as civilian courts won't work because it would not permit U.S. soldiers to detain individuals found to have weapons clearly intended for use against us. What crime would you charge someone with, under U.S. law, for possessing an IED in a country where U.S. law has no jurisdiction?

The question of human shields is another that needs to be addressed. Last summer, Hizbollah chose to fire rockets from civilian areas instead of unpopulated ones. Why? Because Hizbollah loves it when Lebanese civilians are killed. It inflames world opinion against Israel and foments support among the Lebanese. International law should reflect the moral responsibility of Hizbollah for the civilians who were killed as collateral damage in attacks on Hizbollah fighters and arms.

I am not sure what standard of proof would be appropriate for the people at Guantanamo, but indefinite detainment on nothing more than suspicion seems wrong, and releasing likely terrorists into the wild seems dangerous. I am also not sure of what body should oversee the treatment of these prisoners. I don't trust the international community to look out for my security. I am sure, however, that closing down Guantanamo will not solve the problem while these holes in international law still exist.

MIT to Blame For Jones Incident

MIT must share the blame for this problem in failing to check her résumé in 28 years, since they think it is so important. Shame on them. This fine lady's accomplishments have certainly outweighed a 28-year-old indiscretion and MIT should have been handled the matter privately rather than ruining her remaining life with totally unnecessary publicity. Perhaps (jokingly, of course) those whom she admitted should be disqualified. Alumni considering large financial donations please take note.

Jones Sets Bad Example For Applicants

In her public apology, Ms. Jones said she was "… deeply sorry for this [making false claims on her résumé] and for disappointing so many in the MIT community and beyond" who supported her, believed in her and gave her extraordinary opportunities.

Some very important people are never mentioned. I direct your attention to the other candidates for her positions who might have had those same opportunities — if Ms. Jones had not won out over them, partly thanks to false claims. Ms. Jones left in the dust hard-working, deserving people who didn't realize how well deception and embellishment can pay off ­— or whose conscience held them back. In a self-serving way, Ms. Jones uses an apology to remind us of how many people she helped, as others might have also done, without lying.

Of the 30-35 students I went to classes with back in my NY high school, six went to MIT. I would hate to think of any of them being denied acceptance there — or a job in the future — due to unethical behavior on the part of candidates practicing the "Jones Method."

Wittner was a part-time MIT employee from '71-'72.