I posted this in a thread on CF about the handling of the people being kept by the U. S. Government in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. My correspondent is another member of the Republican politics forum. This is from an ongoing conversation, so the context is a bit sketchy, but I think everyone’s familiar with the basic situation: Lots of people being kept as prisoners, with no trials, no charges, no lawyers. And, I might point out, we’ve already had court rulings saying this is wrong.
Are they lawful combatants according to the Geneva Conventions?I dunno. What other options are there?
Is there a special category for “not even human, and not entitled to basic human rights”?
Keep in mind, the Geneva Conventions are not a standard of morality; they are an ABSOLUTE MINIMUM, and if you fall below it, people have a reasonable grounds to eradicate you.
If they are lawful combatants according to the Geneva conventions.How about if they’re human?
If they’re levying war against the United States or giving aid and comfort to its enemies or adhering to them, put them on trial for treason.If they’re citizens, then yeah, it’s probably treason.
Treason is a crime.
If you commit a crime, you have a constitutional and inalienable right to a speedy trial by a jury of your peers. You cannot just be held without charges.
As to the others…
1. If they are citizens of a nation we are at war with, they’re POWs.
2. If they’re citizens of a nation we are not at war with, we should extradite them for trial.
3. If they’re Just Random People, then we should either let ‘em go or try ‘em.
The last, you will note, is not a formal legal requirement. It’s a moral requirement. Morality doesn’t have loopholes, it doesn’t have elaborate rationalizations. You don’t get to make up new special rules to avoid having to follow it. Sometimes, it’s inconvenient, and you’d be happier or safer not taking the moral path.
But the moral path is still there. We have established that justice demands that people be tried by a jury, with access to legal counsel, on the basis of laws which are published and were in effect at the time they committed their alleged crimes. We have established that this trial should be speedy.
That we only legally guarantee these rights to our own citizens reflects the impossibility of trying to extend rights to people who are under the authority of other governments. However, once we have these people, and have claimed that no other government can speak for them, we should offer them these same rights; not because they are citizens, but because they are humans.
A lot of people like to claim this is a Christian nation. We talk about people being endowed with certain rights “by their Creator”.
Well, do we mean it? Are we sincere in this, or is it a bunch of hypocritical nonsense we use to bash people we don’t like, but won’t stick to when it actually means we have to put our OWN comfort on the line to do the right thing?
I say that, whatever America’s origins may be, those rights are indeed inherent. They are indeed endowed by our Creator, not by any law. And that failure to extend those rights to all humans, without exceptions, without excuses, without loopholes, is a grave state of sin.
This is one of the reasons I cannot in good conscience vote for Bush; I believe he is directly and flagrantly disregarding God’s clear and unambiguous will. Not just His will for His people, but for all people. God has endowed us with certain rights; Bush has deprived some people of those rights. This is simply immoral, and cannot be defended or justified.
These people need to be charged, and tried, using juries and judges, and with access to legal counsel. This is not optional; this is the bare minimum moral standard my faith demands of our treatment of all people, and if Bush wishes to proclaim that faith when it comes time for people to vote for him, he should act on that faith when hundreds of people are languishing in prison, having been neither charged, nor tried, nor found guilty of any crime.
Holding them until the war in Afghanistan was over would have been comprehensible. It has been well over a year since then. The time to act has come and gone.
Date: 2004-10-06 22:56:23 -0500
I admire you for saying this, especially since you’ll probably get a lot of flack for it.
Date: 2004-10-07 00:09:03 -0500
(Another post from the thread)
So what happens if some ‘sensitive’ judge decides to let one of those thugs go and the guy goes back to Afghanistan and picks up an AK-47.
I dunno. What do we do every time the checks and balances in our legal system let a guilty man go free? What do we do when we turn the other cheek and the guy just hits us again?
Jesus did not promise that following Him would leave us free of persecution or worldly harm.
The question, I guess, is when did you become the judge and jury of a man you’ve never even seen, in a case the facts of which you have never seen? You say “thugs”. I say how do you know that?
We have a legal system. It works. One of the premises is that you are not guilty of a crime until you have been found guilty. By a legitimate court, with a defense attourney representing you, and a judge, and a jury of your peers.
If that’s not an ideal worth upholding even when it’s not easy, then why did we bother going to war? Without our ideals, what do we have left worth protecting? Our lives? The average paper wasp can protect itself and its immediate neighbors and relatives. I’d like to hope that my moral system would hold up to a higher standard. Our freedoms? Our freedoms are predicated on the understanding that they are universal rights, not special privileges we get for having the biggest army.
Actually, I think that we met the moral requirement by simply not shooting them out of hand.
Well, cool. If you’re ever accused of terrorism, and spending a couple of years in solitary confinement, I’m sure it’ll be a great comfort to you that, while your fundamental and inalienable rights have been taken away from you without even any kind of judicial review, at least you’re not dead until someone decides to shoot you.
A lot of these guy probably could have been executed as unlawful combatants. Instead, flew them halfway around the world, and stuck them in cages in Cuba and gave them better food, medical care, and prayer rugs than they probably could have gotten in Afghanistan.
That argument sounds great for a month or so.
After two years, it’s ludicrous.
Is America the land of the tolerably well-fed? No. It’s the land of the free. Freedom, not “we feed them regularly”, is the foundational ideal we supposedly aspire to.
Interestingly enough, wasn’t it our Creator that destroyed Soddom and Gomorrah?
This could be the subject of a long and interesting discussion, but I will leave it, for now, at pointing out that the people there were not held prisoner for two years.
Date: 2004-10-07 00:32:08 -0500
Well, the United States held Japanese prisoners during World War 2 for more than two years. Was that ludicrous?
Yes. It was also, flatly evil, and unconscionable.
Hey, you know, we used to keep black men as slaves, and deny women and blacks the vote. Used to do it doesn’t make it okay.
We’re supposed to learn from our mistakes.
Have hostilities in Afghanistan ceased? Has the cause that those people serve been destroyed?
Hostilities in Afghanistan are pretty minor these days. Anyway, Japan’s still out there, but we seem to have decided to let some of our Japanese-looking citizens run about a little, on the off chance that they’ll be peaceable.
But… Once again, what if some of them didn’t serve that cause? What if some of them are just random Joes who were obeying a local tribal warlord, and who, if sent home, will just reintegrate into a country we haven’t been at war with in some time?
Is engaging in war a crime?
Well, if it isn’t, then I guess they aren’t criminals, and we should let ‘em go.
You can’t have it both ways. You’re trying to say simultaneously that they aren’t in any category for which they could be punished, and yet, that we should incarcerate them forever. They have to have done something illegal for us to have grounds to lock ‘em up. If they haven’t, let’s let ‘em go. If they have, try ‘em.
If it turns out that our legal system lacks a way to punish people for certain wrongs, then justice says they go free. That’s how it goes. Laws are not retroactive, and you can’t just make up new rules to hold people because you think they’re bad.
Basically, the treatment of these people is totally, completely, without moral justification. It comes down to “we’re mad at them and can’t think of a good way to hurt them because we’re mad, so we’ll hold them until we think of something, and at least they’re being kept away from their families and have no freedom at all, so we’re sorta punishing them some”. That is about as perfectly immoral as it is possible for a stream of “reasoning” to get.
This is contrary to the fundamental ideals of the Republican party, of the United States, and of Christianity. It contradicts the intent of international law, even if we may have found clever loopholes. It contradicts the spirit of every agreement there is on the topic of how you deal with prisoners captured while fighting people. It is an abuse of loopholes to let us feel really good about taking punitive actions towards people without giving them the God-mandated benefit of a trial.
You could argue that some Americans were denied the benefit of a trial before being killed – say, in the original 9⁄11 attacks.
But that is not a Christian argument; it is a repudiation of the most fundamental tenet of Christianity, which is that we treat everyone, including our enemies, as we would wish to be treated. It does not matter whether they are good to us, or treat us well, or fairly, or decently. We are to treat them with fairness, justice, and mercy, at all times, in all circumstances, no matter the cost.
This path is not for everyone. I do not condemn those who stare into this abyss a while, then look away; I know that, when it comes down to the wire, I too fall short of the ideal to which I have been called.
But, if we are to fall short, let us admit, at least, that we are doing so. Let us admit that we have abandoned that ideal. Let us admit that our administration has, ultimately, found the Christian ideal too lofty a goal, and turned away. Let us admit that we have given up the ideals of freedom we once said our country was based on. Perhaps we need to look for a new mascot; perhaps a vulture, instead of an eagle?
But… I still have faith that this path is worth taking, and that this country can be the one to take it. But that would require us to take action, to find judges, to find juries, to get facts presented and cases heard. And that’s a scary thing; as you note, we run the risk of letting some guilty men go free along with the innocent.
But… Better to die free than to live a slave to our fears.
Date: 2004-10-07 00:38:00 -0500
Execution is not murder. Execution is the state sanctioned taking of a life, which cannot legally be murder.
If we pass a law saying it is legal to kill people who annoy you, do you think God will be fooled into agreeing that it’s not murder?
I was not comparing the United States to God. I was simply pointing out the the Creator that gave us free will, and whom people apparently believe gave us the inalienable right to life, has destroyed that very life that He allegedly gave us the right to, on that one occasion.
Okay. Tell you what, if God thinks those people need to be executed, He can do it. “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the LORD”. It is His, not ours, to claim vengeance.
Why do we need to bring civil courts into this? Let military tribunals decide. They have far more experience judging military matters.
They also have far more practice finding ways to kill people they don’t like, because they are not answerable to the checks and balances of our legal system. Sorry, but no.
Anyway, even if we were to accept that tribunals could do such a thing fairly, and we have no evidence that they have any interest in protecting the rights of the accused, that would have taken away the only possible excuse we had for dragging this out; military tribunals could have done all the work a year ago. But… They would have executed innocents, and we know it.
As you are fond of pointing out, these people are not legally answerable to our military. Our military tribunals are convened to judge our own soldiers, who took certain oaths. They have no authority over other people’s soldiers.
We could even be really daring and hand the people over to an international organization; it was good enough to try the Nazis, and we’ve apparently prejudged these people to be just as bad.
Date: 2004-10-07 00:40:26 -0500
(For the curious, some of the staff at ChristianForums are a little trigger-happy on the delete button, which is one of the reasons I’m saving this stuff all over here on the blog.)
So then make a Freedom of Information act request.
Would do us a lot of good, I’m sure, to find out after the guy’s dead that there was a problem in the tribunal. No, sorry. Trial by jury is an inalienable right for a reason.