Tuesday 15 June 2004

Guantanamo: What the World Should Know

Read and understand my friends, we are all in the deepest of danger!

Americans should care about what goes on at Guantanamo for a number of reasons. First of all, the way we are treating the prisoners there is a scandal, an embarrassment to the people of this country and an outrage to the people of the world. That you can take someone and put him in a prison offshore with no legal rights whatsoever for two and a half years is simply inhumane.

Second, our treatment of these people, who are primarily Muslims and of Arabic ethnic origin, should be a cause of tremendous consternation because of the message it sends to the Muslim world. Guantanamo has become iconic in the Arab and Muslim world; it stands for the United States doing wrong and abusing people. If we want to live in a safe world, the message we should send is that we will treat people not like animals but like human beings. Although we should be trying to lessen the anger toward the United States within the Muslim and Arab world, we are not doing that; we are, in fact, doing the opposite.

Third, we should care about Guantanamo because we should care about how others are going to treat our citizens. If Americans -- soldiers or civilians -- are picked up overseas, how do we want them to be treated? Do we want them treated lawfully, in accordance with either criminal law or the Geneva Conventions, or do we want them treated like we are treating the prisoners at Guantanamo? The United States is setting an example for how international prisoners are to be treated, and it is a terrible example.

A fourth reason we should care is what this all means for the future of the rule of law, and for the building of societies that are based upon the rule of law and not on the dictates of kings or presidents. For nearly eight hundred years, since the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, our laws have insisted that every single human being is entitled to some kind of judicial process before he or she can be thrown in jail. The United States is trying to overturn one of the most fundamental principles of Anglo-American jurisprudence and international law. This is a principle that is found in the Declaration of the Rights of Man, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We have gone back to a pre-Magna Carta medieval system, not a system of laws, but of executive fiat, where the king-or in this case the president-simply decides, on any particular day, I'm going to throw you into some prison. You are not going to have access to a lawyer or anybody else, or even know if there are any charges against you, or if you will ever be released from this prison. Guantanamo has become our Devil's Island, our Chateau d'If from The Count of Monte Cristo. The consequences of this unilateral abrogation of fundamental law are grave, not merely for the people in Guantanamo and for citizens of other countries, but also for every person in the United States. If we care about civilization and the rule of law and justice, we cannot keep treating people like this. There should be no place in the world that is a law-free zone, no place in the world where human beings have no rights...The key point here is that everyone picked up in a war is protected by the Geneva Conventions. No one is outside the law. No one can be treated arbitrarily at the discretion of his captors.

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