Thursday, September 21, 2006

Bush: Weak on National Security

Since President Bush vigorously announced his intentions earlier this month to finally bring to justice detainees that have been in US custody for nearly five years, including the "mastermind" of the September 11th attacks (minus Usama, of course, who remains at large somewhere between Afghanistan and Pakistan), he has gone out of his way to hold up the very military tribunals set up to convict them of their alleged war crimes. In fact, he is attempting to weaken them.

When the Supreme Court earlier this summer ruled that the military tribunal system as it was set up then could not go forward because it did not comply with the Geneva Conventions, it was a straightforward decision. In other words, the system was illegal. The Court said to go back to Congress and make sure that the tribunal regulations get legislated through both Houses, signed into law by Bush and comports to established international standards of jurisprudence (Geneva) in dealing with wartime criminals (at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and those in formerly secret prisons around the world who are now at Gitmo).

Instead of doing just that, he had to make the whole issue more complicated and controversial than it already was. The trouble started when the Bush adminstration viewed the Supreme Court decision as an invitation to rewrite Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which they claim is "too vague" in saying what is lawful or unlawful treatment of prisoners, and the debate between Bush and 3 "rebel Republicans" (and those who support the latter) over this radical idea hasn't stopped since.

I won't go into details, but anyone who can google or Wikipedia their way to Common Article 3 of Geneva can figure out for themselves that it is NOT vague and says plainly: no torture or anything like it to war prisoners. Bush & co. are "cherrypicking" out words and sentences from the Supreme Court and this international treaty as an excuse to write a law that would retroactively cover the asses of US interrogators who allegedly DID torture the enemy combatants like Khalid Sheik Mohammed. He is evil, we know, and maybe he deserved the treatment he got for masterminding the September 11 attacks with Usama's blessing, but you don't make the exception the rule. More importantly, torture hardly ever gives interrogators reliable evidence, and in the case of one detainee, it can bring out FALSE confessions and intelligence, some of which ultimately found its way into Colin Powell's embarassing/notorious February 2002 UN speech on Iraq's dangers (false as all those dangers turned out to be).

If we rewrite any part of the Geneva laws, who's to say other countries, especially ones who we view as adversies/enemies wouldn't rewrite it as they saw fit to justify how THEY treat prisoners (potentially US soldiers)? It's a bad idea, and many people are trying to stop it from happening.

For almost 10 days now, experts have been weighing in on the issue - the controversial bill is currently called the Military Commissions Act of 2006 - and pleading with Congress to prevent any attempt to change Common Article 3 and revoke a prisoner's (al Qaeda or otherwise) habeas corpus rights to challenge their detention in federal courts (by withholding certain evidence from them). Colin Powell wrote to former Vietnam POW John McCain around September 13 to support his protest of Bush's attempt to screw with the Geneva Conventions, and many others, including 9 retired US justices (many of them Appeal Court judges) wrote to Congress, applauding those who are fighting to prevent secret evidence and evidence by coercion from being allowed in these military tribunals.

It's bad enough that we have more enemies and people who hate us in the world now (think Arab countries) than we did after Clinton left office (much of it because of Bush's troubled and tragic Iraq war). We don't need the world to think any less of us than they already do, and ratifying established international laws that haven't been changed in nearly 60 years like the Geneva Convention would give other nations license to do so, no doubt about it.

And that's the main point. Do unto others that you would want done to you, now and in the future. We know that the terrorists we face in the Middle East and elsewhere today aren't part of established governments, try as the might to topple and influence them with their radical Islamic rhetoric. Has the major media paid attention to what's going on in Somalia? Al-Qaeda has infiltrated the country and now you have US-backed warlords fighting warlords backed by al-Qaeda. Somalia could become the next Afghanistan, an oppressive state where the rules of war would no doubt be non-existent.

But this current debate is about not just the seemingly endless "War on Terror," but future wars and the courts that try their criminals. It's about realizing that the Geneva Conventions have lasted through the Korean War, Vietnam, and even both Iraq wars without being changed. Why start now?

As former Chief Justice Marshall once said, we are a nation of laws, not men. Here's to hoping that common sense and law ultimately trumps the short-sighted ideology of the men who run the White House.

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