Tuesday, June 24, 2008

GITMO Ruling: Supreme Court Got It Right

by Katherine Scardino

This is a little off the usual topic, but it's an issue that bothers me and one that should bother you. What about Guantánamo Bay prisoners?

Was the decision last week from the United States Supreme Court in Boumediene v. Bush the right one? Do you agree that those whom the United States has imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba should have the right to avail themselves of our basic constitutional right to habeas corpus?

Just what is "habeas corpus"? Literally, it means "have the body." To the legal world, it means that the imprisoned person has the right to require the State or Government to show cause why they are being held. To the rest of the world, it means that authorities should not be able to take away your liberty without having to answer: What's this all about? And what gives you the right?

It is not a "get out of jail free" card. When our forefathers drafted the United States Constitution in the mid- to late-1700s, they agreed that no longer would the citizens of our new United States be held without bail, or without "due cause." This constitutional bedrock was instituted to assure that the Government could not pick up citizens and throw them in jail or prison without the prisoner having some recourse. That recourse is habeas corpus.

My understanding of the Boumediene ruling by the Supreme Court is that it simply allows the Gitmo prisoners the right to habeas corpus, entitling them to the right to file a document that demands an answer to this core question: Do you (Government) have the legal right to keep me in prison?

I have heard people are outraged at this ruling. Our Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, was vocal in his criticism of the Supreme Court ruling stating the decision was "one of the worst decisions in the history of this country." Perhaps he believes that this decision should be in the same category as the Dred Scott decision, which upheld slavery, and Plessy v. Ferguson, which permitted separate but equal accommodations for races.

In actuality, the Supreme Court only gave the Guantánamo prisoners the same right that any person would want if they, or one of their loved ones, were arrested and placed in jail in another country.

The problem with that belief is that most countries do not have this thing called "habeas corpus." Many countries CAN arrest you--a citizen of the United States of America--and throw you in jail. What recourse do you have to assure that you are not languishing in jail for years before anyone decides your fate? I would bet that habeas corpus is not one of them. Remember the movie Midnight Express? That harrowing film about an American who was locked away in a Turkish prison was based on a true story.

So before you join the ranks of the uninformed citizens criticizing our Supreme Court, stop and think for a moment. Is it not OK for an inmate in a foreign country to have the right to ask "what are my charges and do you have enough evidence to hold me here?"

Guantánamo is an unacceptable legal black hole. Our U. S. Supreme Court simply said to all of us that we are a nation committed to the rule of law--not the rule of men.

24 comments:

Leah said...

Another reason not to vote for John McCain.

jigmeister said...

Katherine,

I don't often agree with you, but I do on this issue. It is a complicated one because in past wars, prisoners (not citizens obviously) were held until cessation of hostitilies and then released. In this war, with justification, those sharing responsibity for 9/11 and other terrorist acts against Americans are being treated as criminals.

Since we have no confidence in the world court to handle them, we are having to come up with a procedure to do that. Since that procedure is going to mirror our own criminal justice system, its safeguards must also be built in. Habeas is an important mechanism in that system.

Unfortunately we have lumped common foreign soldiers in with the "terrorists" and there is no sovern with whom to negotiate a cessation of hostitilities with, so what do we do with them? You can't release them back to Al Qaeda and other nations from which they initially came, don't want them.

We seem to have made a mess and created a monster.

Anonymous said...

If the people being held at Gitmo were American criminals you'd have a point. The thing is those people are not Americans or just criminals (unless you want to call them war criminals. They are nothing more, nor less prisoners of war. These enemy combatants were captured fighting against American soldiers during battles. One wonders if the people supporting the USSC's decision would have felt the same way about German prisoners of war. As to the comments made about John McCain doesn't he know better than all of you about POWs? I mean he was one for 5 years in the Hanoi Hilton.

katherine scardino said...

First of all, these prisoners are not yet "criminals" until a court of law says so. Isn't that what we are all about? I do not in any way mean to demean John McCain's heroic acts as a prisoner of war. I have relatives who were prisoners of war during WWII. But that is not the issue here. Some may want to take them out back and just shoot them - if not that, then what do we do with them? Keep them forever - with no legal recourse?

Leah said...

Yes, which is exactly why I am shocked that he feels the way he does. But that doesn't have anything to do with the US laws.

Jan said...

These foreign combatants are not US citizens and thus should not be afforded the same rights as a US citizen.

They were captured during battle and military law should apply, whatever that might entail. These aren't people who were jaywalking in NYC.

John McCain, more than any of us, knows the perils of war and the consequences of being captured by the enemy. His firsthand perspective gives his opinion much credibilty, IMHO.

Leah said...

Don't we have a treaty or something like that which says that we are supposed to release POWs after a certain length of time? I know that we aren't supposed to hold onto them forever.

I have the utmost respect for JM, I just don't agree with him about this issue [and a few others].

Levi said...

You all need to ask yourselves, would we have wanted to try Hitler here in the United States? Would we have wanted to try Mussolini here? The problem with the Supreme Courts ruling is that Military war crime trials and civilian courts don't go together.

Leah said...

Well, we tried Manual Noriega in Miami.. Granted it was for drugs and not war.

I think the reason for the appeal to the Supreme Court of the US is because the military courts aren't doing anything with these prisoners. We don't have a right to hold aliens indefinitely, for war crimes or anything else.

Levi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Levi said...

We have the right to hold them while we are fighting the war on terror.

Leah said...

The Geneva Convention and the 4 treaties under it is what I was thinkink of earlier that I couldn't remember. According to it, they should be released, and that is what the SC ruling was based on.

Anonymous said...

A couple of things; Al Quaida and other terrorist organizations were not signers to any of these pacts like the Geneva Convention; The reason Osama felt comfortable attacking the way he did is because until this point we have never fought back: Marines killed in Lebanon oh well so sorry; USS Cole oops; When the bully on the play ground at school keeps stealing your lunch money after beating you up he will continue to do so until you fight back. These perople at Gitmo are there because our soldiers captured them while they were trying to kill our soldiers. It is foolishness in the extreme to release someone who was caught while trying to kill OUR GIs. I'd bet most of you who want to let these people go free don't even know anyone who serves our country by putting their lives on the line for you. Whether you want to admit it or not we are at WAR.

Levi said...

Great point Anonymous!

Leah said...

They don't need to be freed here in the US. They need to go back to the countries they came from. The US already knows that only about 80of them are going to be tried for war crimes and they are going to have to let the rest of them [over 300 I think] go because they have no reason to be holding them.

Leah said...

And they are entitled to the protections under the Geneva Conventions, that is what the SC ruled.

TxMIchelle said...

Anon,
We are at war! Shut up!! Where was I when this started?

Please save your assumptions. My whole family is military, I currently have two family memebers serving.
The war we are in has NOTHING to do with the attacks on 9/11 nor does it have anything to do with terrorism. WAKE UP!

Anyone taken in by our country as a POW or a suspected terrorist must be treated with the dignity that we as a country are known for. We cannot allow this terrorist fear to bring us to the level of the countries we look down upon when they behave in the same manner.

Besides as Leah already pointed out they are not all Al Queda. Some are only suspected..Therefore let the American government bring the proof and allow the accused their say.

Leah said...

Thank you Michelle. You said it better than I did. We are a better country than the ones we are fighting.

I too have currently family members, and good friends in the military and even one serving right now in Afghanistan and several in Iraq. I am not sure what your point was about that.

TxMichelle said...

That part was not aimed at you.

anon
" I'd bet most of you who want to let these people go free don't even know anyone who serves our country by putting their lives on the line for you."

I was pointing out that it is presumptive of him to think that just becuase we don't agree with the actions of the government means we obviously don't have a clue on a personal level.

Leah said...

Gotcha!

Anonymous said...

TxMichelle said...
That part was not aimed at you.

anon
" I'd bet most of you who want to let these people go free don't even know anyone who serves our country by putting their lives on the line for you."

I was pointing out that it is presumptive of him to think that just becuase we don't agree with the actions of the government means we obviously don't have a clue on a personal level.


Talk about presumptive; for what reason do you (wrongly) presume me to be a "him"? Would it help if you knew my name is Miriam? :)

TxMichelle said...

My apologies Miriam.
Don't know exactly why I thought of a him from the post. I shall make my comments with a he/she.

Anonymous said...

TxMichelle said...
My apologies Miriam.
Don't know exactly why I thought of a him from the post. I shall make my comments with a he/she.


No prob, Michelle. :) It's probably a safe bet that we (all) should just agree to disagree on this particular subject. I believe that we are safer with people who were caught fighting against our boys locked up and you disagree. We can probably agree that we need not agree on this one thing to go on happily with our own lives. L'Chaim,

Miriam

TxMichelle said...

That is the thing Miriam,
I am not saying they should not be locked up.
What I am saying is that some of them that are locked up are only suspected of aiding or committing terrorist acts.
Since they are only suspected then as a nation founded on fairness and equality we owe them the right to present their case and to confront their accusers.
If they are guilty, throw away the key. I have no issues with that at all.