You'd think people would learn by now to avoid ever invoking the Nazis to defend yourself in an argument, but Ari Fleischer probably wishes he could take his most recent debate point back. Appearing in a roundtable discussion on Anderson Cooper's CNN show last night, the former Bush press secretary turned pundit not only tried to defend the tactics of housing prisoners without trial at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, but claimed we wouldn't have needed such a prison during World War II, because the German army "followed the law of war."
Fleischer, who was White House Press Secretary when Guantanamo opened in 2002, argued that we need the camp because al-Qaeda fighters "didn't even wear a military uniform. They engaged in battle against America as terrorists, a violation of the laws of war." (Never mind for now the shaky logic of saying the normal rules don't apply to you, because your enemies broke them first.)
To be fair to Fleischer, he was not the one who brought up the Germans first. It was Jeffrey Toobin who suggested that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were far worse than Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, saying, "We managed to defeat Adolf Hitler by following the rule of law." But Fleischer then took the bait, taking the argument a step further by saying (we think) that he thinks al-Qaeda is worse simply because they don't wear uniforms or march anywhere. Here's his quote:
They followed the law of war. They wore uniforms and they fought us on battlefields. These people [terrorists] are fundamentally, totally by design different. And they need to be treated in a different extrajudicial system.
If the only rule of war was that you have to wear a uniform, then, yeah, we guess they followed that. But there are other rules, too: Like don't commit genocide. Or turn civilians into slave labor. Or perform unauthorized medical experiments on them. Or a whole host of unspeakable things that Hitler's army did to Europe—even while wearing their uniforms.
So, yes, al-Qaeda is a lot different than the Nazis, but not in the ways that he probably thinks. Also, Fleischer seems to have forgotten that a lot of the laws of war that al-Qaeda (and Guantanamo Bay, for that matter) has broken had to be created because the Germans re-defined how horrible war could be. Just help reminder that the next time you find yourself self saying something complimentary about the Nazis, just hold your tongue until the commercial break.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.