The U.S. has conducted talks with the Taliban about releasing 5 accused terrorists being held at Guantanamo prison in exchange for the safe return of Bowe Bergdahl, an American captured and held by a Taliban-affiliated group since 2009. The negotiations raise questions not only about the best way to bring peace to Afghanistan but also about how to treat those accused of atrocities, whether they be suspected terrorists at Guantanamo or Viktor Yanukovych, the ousted president of the Ukraine whom authorities have accused of the murder of antigovernment protesters. In the fog of war, it’s not easy to find the truth.
We struggled to find the truth during the American Revolution, too. Patriots and loyalists each accused the other side of committing atrocities against civilians. One prominent instance of this involved Henry Hamilton, the British lieutenant governor of Fort Detroit, who was captured in 1779 and sent to the public gaol in Williamsburg. American settlers accused Hamilton of paying Indians to bring him scalps, nicknaming him “the Hair Buyer.” Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson ordered Hamilton to be treated as a common criminal, rather than a gentleman. From jail, he protested his treatment and claimed that it was the Americans and their Indian allies who committed atrocities. Hamilton was held without trial for 18 months. He was eventually freed as part of a prisoner exchange. What kind of justice should citizens demand of the government during wartime?