Perpetuity

The alleged abuses and religious desecrations at Guantanamo are disturbing if true. However, what really upsets me about the Bush Administration’s approach to the Guantanamo situation is their total disregard for American traditions of due process and Constitutional rights.

In Senate hearings on Tuesday, the Bush Administration said the inmates could be jailed there “in perpetuity.”

Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

That’s in our Constitution, the supreme law of the land. However, this is what was said in the Senate yesterday:

Delaware Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden asked Deputy Associate Attorney General J. Michael Wiggins whether the Justice Department had “defined when there is the end of conflict.”

“No, sir,” Wiggins responded.

“If there is no definition as to when the conflict ends, that means forever, forever, forever these folks get held at Guantanamo Bay,” Biden said.

“It’s our position that, legally, they can be held in perpetuity,” Wiggins said.

Every single clause of the Sixth Amendment is violated in Guantanamo.

I completely agree with Sen. Patrick Leahy’s take on the situation: “Our great country, America, was once viewed as a leader in human rights and the rule of law, and justly so. Guantanamo has undermined our leadership, has damaged our credibility, has drained the world’s goodwill for America at an alarming rate.”

I understand that there’s a question about how much the Geneva Conventions apply to the prisoners in Gitmo. However, when we start ignoring our own Constitution and depriving the accused of any legal due process rights, we’ve severely damaged our claim to moral leadership in how to deal with people we don’t like.

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About Lance Finney

Father of two boys, Java developer, Ethical Humanist, and world traveler (when I can sneak it in). Contributor to Grounded Parents.
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19 Responses to Perpetuity

  1. Dan Lewis says:

    Let’s not forget who these people are: Irregular, ununiformed enemy combatants on the battlefield trying to kill US servicemen. They don’t get Geneva conventions because they don’t follow Geneva conventions. Even so, the “Gulag of our time” provides three culturally appropriate meals per day, provides worship time and Korans for them to read, and provides air conditioning. There is no forced labor. There are interrogations, and rightly so. These terrorists should in fact be interrogated vigorously to defend our country.

    As for the constition, the first four words of Amendment VI are “In all *criminal* prosecutions”. This isn’t a criminal case to be decided in some MJ media circus. Geneva conventions don’t apply because they aren’t uniformed regular army. If we release them, they will try to harm us again. Keeping them in perpetuity is unfortunately the only reasonable alternative.

  2. Lance Finney says:

    Dan,

    There’s a big gaping hole in your argument. You’re assuming that those people are enemy combatants. Without legal due process, there’s no way we can know for sure if it’s true. It’s possible that every single one of them was caught in the act of attacking American soldiers out of uniform. It’s also possible that they were all taken in a raid on the Kabul Chess Club where they were having a spirited tournament.

    Of course, that’s unlikely, but eithout due process, there’s no way to know except to accept the government’s word for it. That a standard I’d think you’d be far too cynical to accept.

    Here’s another way to think of it. Here’s the policy that is being supported: it’s acceptable for the government of Country A to arrest a citizen of Country B in Country C and whisk him to a secret prison in Country D without any redress or due process. Is that a reasonable standard? I definitely don’t think so. Since I’m living in Germany, is policy would mean that I’d have no chance of ever being released if the British government arrested me here and whisked me off to a secret prison on one of their bases in Cyprus. If anyone complains, all they need to do is call me an enemy combatant without providing any proof, and my fate is sealed.

    Is that really an acceptable policy for civilized societies? I don’t think so, and I definitely don’t want my government championing that policy in my name.

    It’s nice that you get to discount the cases of these prisoners by simply denying that their cases are criminal. If it’s just a definitional issue, why don’t we simply define anything we don’t like as non-criminal. Then we can do anything we want without restraint inside the country or outside it.

    The spirit of the Sixth Amendment is clear. The administration is in direct violation of the Amendment, and playing silly semantic games shouldn’t be able to excuse that. Fortunately, the Supreme Court agrees with me, not with you.

    Keeping them in perpetuity is unfortunately the only reasonable alternative.

    Says the man not being held without a chance of ever being released or giving his side of the story…

  3. Jeff Brown says:

    Without engaging in debate about whether or not the US is acting inappropriately in Gitmo, I have a question about your argument. Is it clear that the folks being held in Gitmo are supposed to be entitled to the benefits spelled out in the US Bill Of Rights? That is not a rhetorical question. I honestly don’t know.

  4. Lance Finney says:

    Jeff,

    That’s a big unresolved question. The Bush Administration takes the position that the folks in Gitmo have no legal rights. I agree with with many others that the spirit, if not the letter, of the Bill of Rights should apply.

    It seems that the Supreme Court tends to agree with my perspective of the case; they ruled a year ago that Guantanamo prisoners had the right to seek their release in federal court.

    I wouldn’t be upset if the final determination was that they had rights less than those defined in the Constitution, if the rights were fair, well-understood, and included due process in line with the spirit of what America claims to be.

  5. Dan Lewis says:

    If you want to beleive that the US government is going to just detain people we don’t like and call them enemy combatants, that’s fine. I don’t beleive that. I will grant you that maybe we picked up a few innocents along with the hard-core bad guys. In the heat of the battle, it’s hard to put together a great deal of evidence to have a legal case against them. Any defense attorney worth a dime can get them off by creating “reasonable doubt” see OJ and MJ. If this were a normal war, we’d just let them go when the war is over. Because it’s not, their status is kind of undefined. Maybe once things settle down a bit we can turn them over to the proper Afghanistan authorities. However, I imagine most of them would just be summarily executed. Not an ideal situation, but we really haven’t had this kind of war before.

  6. Lance Finney says:

    What’s the difference between “detain people we don’t like and call them enemy combatants” and “picked up a few innocents along with the hard-core bad guys”? For the innocent victim, there is no difference.

  7. Jeff Brown says:

    With respect to…

    “However, when we start ignoring our own Constitution and depriving the accused of any legal due process rights, we’ve severely damaged our claim to moral leadership in how to deal with people we don’t like.”

    I would not submit any objection to that statement by itself but I am not convinced that the statement reflects what is going on in Gitmo. It doesn’t seem clear to me that the Constitution is being ignored. I expect that the folks directly involved have had many conversations about it and reasonable people can argue about how/if it applies to these prisoners in particular but I don’t think it is being ignored.

    If it sounds like I am defending anything that is going on there, I am not. I am also not condemning anything that is going on there. There are some things I am uncomfortable with but I also feel like most of us are working with such a small percentage of the total facts that it is hard to really make a judgement.

    Incidentally, I used to be much much more suspicous of and cynical about my government than I am today.

  8. Lance Finney says:

    I also feel like most of us are working with such a small percentage of the total facts that it is hard to really make a judgement.

    Very good point.

    What made you less cynical about the government?

  9. Jeff Brown says:

    I don’t know what made me less cynical about the government. I used to feel like the man was constantly bearing down on me. As a recovering liberal, I feel less of that. 😉

  10. Dan Lewis says:

    “I also feel like most of us are working with such a small percentage of the total facts that it is hard to really make a judgement.”

    I will definitely agree with that.

    In light of that, damning accusations should be cast about in a wanton, laisse faire (sp?) way without a thorough understanding of those facts. If the target is the Bush Administration, the threshold for proof is low. Any kind of charge is just thrown on the wall, whether it be desertion, lying to go to war, or what have you. The net effect is chicken little. If something actually happens now, nobody will beleive it. If the target is an enemy combatant picked up on the battlefield, the threshold for proof is much higher.

    Democrats are all negative, all of the time, so it’s hard to seperate rhetoric from reality.

  11. Dan Lewis says:

    Furthermore, now you have Joe Biden calling US troops Nazi’s and repeating the Amnesty International claim of Gulag. This self-deprecation and flagellation has to stop.

  12. Lance Finney says:

    Dan,

    Thank you for providing our daily recommended allowance of irony.

  13. Mario Aquino says:

    Since when is it against the law to wage war on another country? Whatever group the prisoners in Gitmo hold allegience to (even assuming they are all baddies) is engaged (whether explicitly or by virtue of declaration by the US govt.) in a war with the United States (and for arguments sake, let’s also say other countries as well). Fighting against US troops in a time of war is perfectly legal (isn’t it, IANAL). We are holding the prisoners in Gitmo as enemy combatants since we can’t try them under criminal statutes. Holding them forever is what will happen without a legislative intervention. The alternative is releasing them, which won’t happen because at least a few of them would continue to wage war on <insert secular democratic country here/>.

    What we need is either legislation that resolves the legal limbo that these prisoners find themselves in, or a declaration of surrender from a representative of whoever we are fighting against.

  14. Dan Lewis says:

    Correction: The Nazi analogy was drawn by Dick Durbin, not Joe Biden.

    “If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime — Pol Pot or others — that had no concern for human beings,”

    Needless to say he is on a loop on Al-Jazeera.

    I know he’s not actually saying that US troops are like Nazis. Wait, that is what he’s saying. I don’t know. Anyway, to draw the analogy between GitMo and Nazi deathcamps, Soviet gulags or the Pol Pot stuff is not really psychologically sound. In fact its probably insulting to the victims of the Nazi death camps or Gulags or Pol Pot. Maybe he is using it for hyperbole. I don’t know. Anyway, I’m embarrassed that Dick Durbin is an American.

  15. Lance Finney says:

    I don’t know what made me less cynical about the government. I used to feel like the man was constantly bearing down on me. As a recovering liberal, I feel less of that. 😉

    Reminds me of one of my favorite songs from high school: “Since I Gave Up Hope I Feel A Lot Better” http://www.sockheaven.net/music/albums/ip1990/03.html

  16. Lance Finney says:

    “Anyway, to draw the analogy between GitMo and Nazi deathcamps, Soviet gulags or the Pol Pot stuff is not really psychologically sound. In fact its probably insulting to the victims of the Nazi death camps or Gulags or Pol Pot. Maybe he is using it for hyperbole. I don’t know. Anyway, I’m embarrassed that Dick Durbin is an American.”

    Can you explain why you think the analogy is invalid? Locking people away forever without legal representation and without hope of any eventual release is something that comes out of legal systems much less respectable than America’s. It’s hyperbole at some level, but it’s not that outrageous.

    If you’re going to be embarassed as an American, you should be embarassed about what the administration is doing in your name to destroy American credibility, not about someone pointing at the shameful acts.

  17. Dan Lewis says:

    “Can you explain why you think the analogy is invalid?”
    -No people have died at Gitmo (and certainly no holocaust)
    -No forced labor at Gitmo.
    -More than 500 calories per day.
    -1600 Korans provided at taxpayer expense (where is the seperation of church and state outrage).
    You see where I am going with this.
    I’ll assume for the sake of my own sanity that you are talking about the length of detention. In that respect there is still no analogy because we have been letting people go (only to discover them again on the battlefield).

    “Locking people away forever without legal representation and without hope of any eventual release is something that comes out of legal systems much less respectable than America’s.”
    Again I don’t agree with the premise that there is no hope of any eventual release because some of them have already been released.

    There have been a couple of isolated incidents but most of the MPs at Gitmo are acting with dignity and honor. The problem is that people like Dick Durbin are invoking the holocaust and drawing an analogy to Gitmo. That’s doesn’t make sense to me.

    If he wants to talk about prisoner abuse, maybe he should be talking about Nicholas Berg’s head being sawed off with a bread knife (go watch the video –it’s on the web) or the bodies of Iraq army troops found bound and shot execution style. I then don’t have any problem with the air conditioner being set on maximum or rap music blaring in a cell, which are the incidents he sites.

    Maybe Dick (or whoever replaces him) should focus on putting a bill together that defines the legal status of terrorists picked up on the battlefield so we can solve this problem in a way consistent with our humanitarian principles.

  18. Lance Finney says:

    “Again I don’t agree with the premise that there is no hope of any eventual release because some of them have already been released.”

    Read the originally linked article. The administration has said that they plan to hold some prisoners without charges as long as the war lasts. Since winning the “war” is undefinable, they acknowledge that is could mean forever.

    Just because some have been released doesn’t mean that others aren’t being held with no hope of eventual release.

  19. Lance Finney says:

    “No people have died at Gitmo (and certainly no holocaust)”

    True, there have not been any reports of death at Gitmo, but they have happened in U.S.-controller prisons in Iraq:

    “detainees who died under interrogation: that of Manadel al-Jamadi, for instance, whose body was wrapped in plastic and packed in ice when it was carried out of an Abu Ghraib prison shower room a year and a half ago, where he’d been handcuffed to a wall; or Abed Hamed Mowhoush, who, elsewhere in Iraq, appears to have been thrust headfirst into a sleeping bag, manhandled there and then, finally, suffocated.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/12/magazine/12TORTURE.html?ex=1276228800&en=e5bc760185cd367c&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

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