Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Guantanamo. It has been headlined again because of a report by Amnesty International that compared it to the Gulag. Repudiation of this hyperbole has been widespread, especially among those who are close to the horror that defined Stalin’s madness in the dark days that followed the death of Lenin—an event Churchill described as the "second worst thing to happen to the Russian people (the worst, according to Churchill, was the birth of Lenin)."

But while the repudiations have given Amnesy International a black eye, they have also served to underline the distaste of the world community for a place and a system that is widely viewed as a travesty of justice. Natan Sharansky dismissed Amnesty International’s extremism as typical for a group that refuses to distinguish "between democracies where there are sometimes serious violations of human rights and dictatorships where no human rights exist at all." Clearly the United States is not a dictatorship, and Guantanamo is not the Gulag. But if Sharansky's point is well taken on the one side, it must also be taken on the other. Guantanamo is a serious violation of human rights.

The detainees at Guantanamo have no rights. They are not entitled to representation by counsel. They do not have to be informed of their right to remain silent. In other words, they are not granted the freedom from self-incrimination that is the assumed prerogative of free people. They have never even been charged. They don’t have sentences. Of course prisoners of war are never given a right to representation. They are not charged. They are held until the war is over. But the detainees on Guantanamo are not POW's. They were not returned to their countries after the war was over, because the war is undefined.

This is not new. During the days before the Americans got involved in World War II, the Flying Tigers were assembled in Kunming, China to protect China from Japanese bombing. But America was not at war with Japan at that time, so the airmen risked being regarded as war criminals if captured. To avoid this danger, they joined the Chinese Air Force under Chiang Kai-shek. They were commanded directly by Claire Chenault, who had been hired by the Chinese government after his retirement from the U.S. Air Force, but they were in fact members of the Chinese Air Force themselves, and thus, although they could conceivably be captured as POWs, they could not be treated as war criminals.

The Taliban fighters took no such precautions. And if they are war criminals, there is no reason why they should, or should be allowed to. I don’t have a problem with terrorists being confined. They have it coming. But not all of the detainees are war criminals. Some of them just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. So what recourse do you have if you have been mistakenly identified as a terrorist, and the evidence against you is scanty or non-existant? If you are detained at Guantanamo, you have none. No rights. No attorney. No court date. No charge. No sentence. No end in sight. In the old days, we would have said, "That’s un-American." But the world community isn’t sure anymore what can be considered "un-American," when it comes to justice and human rights. This uncertainly has seriously damaged the reputation of the United States as a guardian of freedom. But about one thing there is no uncertainty: Guantanamo is a travesty of justice. It’s time to shut it down.

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