The Ineffectiveness of Prisons in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 10 months ago

Regular readers may recall that I vigorously advocated the separation of religious radicals from non-religiously motivated indigenous insurgents in U.S. prisons in Iraq.  It wasn’t nearly enough, and I may have been engaging in a bit of “whistling past the grave yard.”  The true nature of temporary custody in counterinsurgency (COIN) is now being experienced in Iraq.

Al Qaeda’s Iraqi branch has evolved into a homegrown, more lethal and bolder insurgency comprised of Iraqi fighters hardened in U.S. prisons and posing a challenge to Iraqi forces, military officials say.

The insurgency has been strategically weakened by the deaths of leaders, and both its numbers and the territory in which it can maneuver have shrunk since 2006-07, when Sunni tribal chiefs turned on it and joined forces with the U.S. military.

But what Iraqi officials call the “third generation” of al Qaeda in Iraq may be more difficult to fight than before because its fighters can blend in, know the weaknesses of Iraqi society, and are more interested in making a spectacular splash with their attacks than in battlefield victories.

Their assaults are aimed at grabbing attention and rattling the population at a time when sectarian tensions are fraught because of the failure of politicians to agree on a new Iraqi government seven months after an inconclusive election.

“We face the third generation of al-Qaeda now, a generation that mostly graduated from (U.S. detention camps) Bucca, Cropper and other such places,” said Major General Hassan al-Baidhani, chief of staff for the Baghdad operations command.

Al Qaeda has shown “a new type of boldness,” attacking heavily protected targets and security forces head on, Baidhani told Reuters. “This strategy depends basically on shock. They are not looking for success as much as looking for attention.”

[ ... ]

In the run-up to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, the Bush administration accused Saddam Hussein’s regime of having links to al Qaeda as part of its campaign to bolster support for war.

No ties were ever proven but al Qaeda was quick to take advantage of the post-invasion chaos to establish a presence in Iraq.

The first generation of al Qaeda on Iraq’s battlefields were primarily Arabs from abroad. The second was a mix of foreign and Iraqi Sunnis angered by the invasion and the rise to power of Iraq’s Shi’ite majority after the fall of Saddam, Sunni.

Now as Iraqi security forces take center stage after U.S. troops halted combat operations in August prior to a full withdrawal in 2011, they face a homegrown threat composed of young radicals who fervently believe in jihad, or holy war.

We have attempted to pacify the population by temporarily holding violent jihadists, only to see them released by fiat from Hamid Karzai.  So it’s happening even earlier in Afghanistan than it did in the campaign for Iraq.

It isn’t working in Afghanistan.  It didn’t work in Iraq.  We can preen over our strict adherence to the laws of armed conflict, and we can take comfort in our loyalty to the rules of engagement.  But the bottom line is that while we sit comfortable and proud in our moral uprightness, Iraq is now dealing with radicalized jihadists who are also now hardened criminals set free to perpetrate their violence on the population.  We harm others by our stubborn morality (but it makes us feel good because we ignore that part of it).

Biblical justice was retributive, with violent actions dealt with by execution.  Nonviolence crimes were dealt with by working the offense off rather than something so harsh as incarceration, and prisons were not even conceived until the notion of the rehabilitative powers of incarceration were conceived.

We aren’t dealing with the violent offenders harshly enough, but the flip side of the coin is that reflexive incarceration should be avoided because it makes the situation worse.  There is no rehabilitative power in prisons per se, and even if our refined, Western sensibilities don’t want to deal harshly enough with violent offenders, it pays to understand that prisons are no solution to the problem.  If you don’t believe in the Biblical system of retribution and restoration, then so be it, but one needs to recognize the fact that the problem doesn’t go away with prisons.  It is only delayed and exacerbated.  So a different solution is necessary.  One solution is not to engage in counterinsurgency operations.

Simply put, prisons … do … not … work … in … counterinsurgency.  Pretending that they do is self deception.

Prior:

Jirgas and Release of Taliban Prisoners

Prisons in Afghanistan

Prions in Counterinsurgency




You are currently reading "The Ineffectiveness of Prisons in Counterinsurgency", entry #5678 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Counterinsurgency,Prisons in Counterinsurgency and was published October 26th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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