Bill O’Reilly, the controversial host of Fox News’ Talking Points has a plan for defeating ISIS. He proposed sending cadres of “elite fighters who would be well-paid, well-trained to defeat terrorists all over the world.”
Who would constitute that proposed mercenary army of 25,000? Where would they come from?
The idea of outsourcing such a force appealed to a Vietnam vet who knew that I had taught in a medium security prison in Connecticut and in a maximum security prison in New York State. He figures that prison inmates could be recruited to form teams of “expendables” (detachments replicating “The Dirty Dozen”) who would be grateful for a strings attached get-of-jail card:
“Send our killers over there to kill their killers.”
“Come again,” I replied as his words began to drop onto the Tetris board of my mind; his words dropped into place like the Tetriminos, forming sentences that shaped his Bill O’Reilly-inspired game plan:
“All those guys on death row, all those lifers with no chance of parole, all those in for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon--put them on a transport to Syria or Iraq or Yemen; point them in the direction of ISIS, then arm them and let ’em do what’s in their nature. Exploit their talents.”
Warming to the idea, he continued: “Arm Syrian rebels? Who the h*** are they. Can’t begin to know their loyalties. They’re as likely to turn the weapons on us. That money should go to our own bad guys – with incentive payments.
Well, he got me to thinking. He got me to go back to notes I took in several of those in-prison classes in which inmate-students were encouraged to prepare talking points they would deliver to military recruiters, parole boards, and members of Congress; reasoned pitches to those who might be disposed to authorizing moral waivers. Here are some of the statements I took down from those inmate presentations:
For a second chance, I am willing to pay with my life.
That was from an eight-year Army vet – who was at risk of becoming a prison vet. During his August 1986 - July 1994 tour of duty, he was a supply clerk and record-keeper for a unit armorer group; he kept track M16 rifles, M60 machine guns, grenade launchers, and 9-millimeter pistols. He was in charge of caring for and dispensing nuclear-biological-chemical masks, suits, and gear. He also served as a driver for his company commander and was trained as an instructor for the employment of claymore mines.
All that training and expertise are going to waste, as he bides his time doing a “bid” in prison.
Yes, he got into drugs and dealing. Yes, he made bad decisions. But his service record, he claims, is clear. Does he pay his debt to society by being inactive? Does he rehabilitate himself by being inert? Shouldn’t there be a kind of “debt service” he can discharge by being useful?
There are, of course, serious challenges to overcome.
The price tag: The cost of the program would look to state prisons – most of which are extremely overcrowded and, for budgetary reasons, would be pleased to be relieved of housing, feeding, medicating, and caring for hundreds of inmates; maybe a few thousand. The state savings, combined with investment from the Department of Defense for training, housing and other expenses, could theoretically work.
The trust factor: Given that a single Minnesota mosque seems to have been an indoctrination center for converts to Islamic jihadism, our prisons (with thousands of Muslim adherents) might well be prime territory for recruitment to jihad.
The Army’s screening is not flawless: The jihadist rants and writings of Nidal Malik Hasan didn’t prevent him from attaining the rank of major, or from fatally shooting 13 and injuring 30 others at Fort Hood.
The recent beheading in Oklahoma City was done by a jihadi-wannabe who converted to Islam while in prison.
Since even a privately-funded mercenary operation would have to rely on U. S. intelligence and coordination, declining to consider Muslim applicants wouldn’t be right and wouldn’t fly with the DOJ civil rights division.
As to selecting among the thousands of volunteers, there are terrorism experts within the Department of Homeland Security who could make the call.
The incarcerated vet – the convicted felon who has done some time in the armed services – may be “a last resort” for military recruiters. Given the opportunity, some of these vets are willing to live, and die, with that relegation.
Raising an army, by lowering some standards?
In hand-scrawled notes for a Communications course “speech,” the inmate described above claimed that he had heard that the military was slackening its age and weight requirements, was seeking out high-school dropouts, was finding uses for people whose aptitude-test-scores were below formerly required levels, and was even accepting those with medical problems that had been disqualifiers.
If the military needs fresh bodies – is desperate for “front-line meat” – he is inclined. To those who find it morally repugnant or just plain risky to recruit from prison populations, he offered what could, these days, equate to a coalition of the willing:
Where does anyone who doesn’t choose to serve, or have their family members serve, get to disqualify me because I made prisonable mistakes. Everybody’s got some bad in their past. Why shouldn’t I get the chance to fight for my country? I would step up when so many others won’t or can’t.
The military can handle its own. An ex-con would be no different from any other recruit. He’d have to shape up or ship out.
Guys like me are the best insurance against an involuntary draft.
To critics of moral waivers, another inmate – a three-year vet from the 1980s (infantry, small-arms specialist, Delta Company, Fort Hood, Texas) – argues that “cons” could do the dirty work and “the knucklehead stuff.” He thinks in terms of future job-applications – of having a Department of Defense ID number to offset his Department of Corrections number:
It would give us a chance to come back with something reputable on our resumes.
My old unit is making its way to Afghanistan. I wish I could be with them.
Still another Army vet, also in prison, explained:
Going back in the Army wouldn’t wipe out my criminal history but it would give something my kids that I can’t give them in prison. Here
I have nothing to offer them. I wouldn’t be fighting for the Obama Administration or the Bush Administration, or any political party,
I’d be fighting for a new life. I’d do my best to come back alive, but if I didn’t – well, there’d be death, I mean, life insurance.
I’d go today.
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