Thursday, August 10, 2006

And justice for all

I have come to regard the Guantanamo bay detentions as being the most despicable example of blatant injustice in the modern world. Arbitrary detention without recourse to the courts or due process is an utter disgrace for any civilized society.

The detentions are now almost into their fifth year with barely a whimper of protest. It is perhaps true that worse injustices have occurred and continue to occur all over the world. However, the detentions by the US government are particularly despicable because they are such blatant violations of justice taking place in a country with a long tradition of emphasis on individual rights. That this can happen so easily in an open society such as the US is chilling.

The mythology of the US justice system is a long-standing staple of books, movies and TV dramas . We all know that defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Despite this, Bush, Cheney and other administration officials keep repeating that the prisoners are all terrorists, without it being proven. In fact, these frequent assertions are contradicted by some simple facts:
  • The number of prisoners has gone down over the years from over 650 to 450, due to many people being released or being handed over to their home countries. A further 120 are scheduled to be transferred or released. If they were all terrorists, why were so many of them released ?
  • According to this report based on US government conclusions, 55% of the detainees have not committed any hostile act against the US. 86% of the prisoners were originally picked up by the Northern Alliance or Pakistan and exchanged for bounties. This makes it very likely that many of them were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.
If indeed some of the prisoners are terrorists, they should be tried, convicted and punished duly. The US justice system, never shy of handing out death penalties, has a full range of harsh punishments available to it. The aim of detaining dangerous terrorists can be easily achieved through the normal judicial system.

The various contortions started by being merely bizarre . Consider, for example:
  • the creation of the new category, "enemy combatants" in order to dodge the Geneva conventions,
  • the "military commissions", "administrative review boards" and "combatant status review tribunals", all designed to bypass the courts,
  • the arguments claiming that US courts had no jurisdiction over Guantanamo bay.
  • the scornful response to allegations of torture by claims that prisoners are fed honey-glazed chicken and lemon fish.
They have now gone over into the surreal. We recently had six sigma examples of moral obtuseness. Three detainees committed suicide by hanging themselves with clothing and bedsheets. The camp commander called it asymmetric warfare waged against the US. Another official called the suicides a good PR move. I actually felt physically dizzy when I read about it. I doubt if even Kafka could have dreamed up characters such as these.

The recent Supreme Court decision gives me some hope that this executive absolutism may be reversed. I am not holding my breath for any prosecutions though. Fine legal minds such as "Geneva-conventions-are-quaint" Gonzales and "torture memo" Yoo have surely figured out by now that:

(a) breaking the Geneva conventions is illegal according to the war crimes law and
(b) the Supreme Court agrees with this.

That is why they are seeking changes to the law itself.


Blogger Shunya said...

A very considered and thoughtful post. I believe that the chief casualty of Islamic political terrorism is not the random civilian deaths that hog our attention (perhaps due of its dramatic nature and intense Western media coverage). After all, so many more have died, and still die, randomly and unsung of Malaria and AIDS, not to mention American political terrorism in recent decades (in Cambodia, Laos, Panama, El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, etc.).

The bigger casualty of terrorism is the way it often infects society: rise of intolerance and prejudice; knee-jerk support for authoritarian policies; climate of suspicion, surveillance, and jingoism; easy funding for war, weapons, and the military; flag waving and exclusive patriotism; fear mongering and easy election wins; convenient distraction from issues like global warming, healthcare, and education, etc. So Guantanamo, grossly unjust as it is, is perhaps not the disease but more a symptom of it.

8/12/2006 8:57 PM  
Blogger mm said...

As you said so yourself - this is an open society. You are free to rail against the establishment using public media. Or are you? :-)

8/17/2006 10:03 AM  

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