Browsed by
Tag: rule_of_law

just bullies

just bullies

Our nation’s psyche is shaped by two defining archetypes: the cowboy and the preacher; the macho hero and the principled idealist; the adventurer and the reformer; the Louisiana Purchase and the Bill of Rights; Christopher Columbus and Thomas Jefferson; John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart; Douglas MacArthur and Martin Luther King.

The face we present to the rest of the world is spawned of the delicate balance between these two personae, these two values. We swagger … and we stand on principle. We fight for freedom … and we defend human rights. We are the biggest … and we are the best. We overcome all enemies … and we uphold the rule of law.

Much of our internal political debate can be framed in terms of these two defining ideas. When kept in balance, we manage to win with dignity, to earn respect even as we impose our will, to forge new friendships instead of creating new enemies.

But when the one American vision is divorced from the other, when the rule of law is set aside “out of necessity” in order to “win,” then we are seen as bullies. And that is indeed what we are … just bullies.

if at first you don’t succeed …

if at first you don’t succeed …

It’s hard to see how this is just or fair by any definition. If this is the practice, why go through the bother of a hearing at all? Why pretend to adhere to any rule of law?

The military system of determining whether detainees are properly held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, includes an unusual practice: If Pentagon officials disagree with the result of a hearing, they order a second one, or even a third, until they approve of the finding.

Read the rest of the New York Times article: Guantánamo Detainees’ Suit Challenges Fairness of Military’s Repeat Hearings.

disheartened, but not surprised

disheartened, but not surprised

Many Troops Say Torture OK is the title of an article posted at The article discusses a report released today by the Army Medical Department detailing the results of a study of American service personnel in Iraq.

Among the findings of the report:

  • More than a third of those surveyed believe torture should be permitted if it could save the life of a fellow soldier or Marine.
  • Ten percent of the soldiers and Marines in the survey admitted they had mistreated civilians or damaged property “when it was not necessary.”
  • Only a third of Marines and roughly half of soldiers reported they believed that noncombatants should be treated with dignity.

This is appalling. This is embarrassing. This makes me ashamed. What is it we are claiming to defend? Freedom? Dignity? Human rights? Or just ourselves and our ability to pursue our privileged way of life without outside interference?

But such pervasive disregard for human dignity and for the rule of law does not come to exist in a vacuum. It grows and spreads and is deemed acceptable, because our nation’s leaders do not say otherwise, but, in fact, support its assumptions. When our nation’s leaders refuse to be bound by the Geneva Conventions, when they find a time and a reason for “alternative interrogation techniques,” when they downplay the “collateral damage” done to noncombatants, when national security trumps everything else, then the kind of attitude among fighting men and women revealed in this survey is not surprising … disheartening, but not surprising.

some thoughts on terrorism

some thoughts on terrorism

Some thoughts provoked by a lecture I heard last Monday evening delivered by Dr. Louise Richardson. Her latest book: What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat

  • Dr. Richardson spoke of the importance of “following our own rules.” I agree. It is beyond foolish to jettison our highest principles — our esteem for the rule of law and our commitment to human rights for all people — for the sake of protecting ourselves and “our way of life.” We are only dooming our way of life in the process, as well as severely undermining any international credibility we might have had in calling other nations and leaders to account.
  • “Terrorism” has become a catchall term, used to define — and defame — any “enemy” of any sort. When we refer to “The Terrorists” without any further elaboration, as if “The Terrorists” were a monolithic, coordinated opposition, it only confuses things. We are threatened not by “The Terrorists,” but by a variety of terrorists groups, each with their own distinct grievances, ideologies, political objectives, and modes of behavior: Al Qaeda, Hamas, Sunni insurgents, Shiite militias, etc. It is critical that we understand our enemies and what it is that drives their rage, even when it may mean acknowledging the legitimacy of some of their complaints.
  • Dr. Richardson defines terrorism as the “deliberate targeting of non-combatants for the sake of some political objective.” It seems to me that an additional element of any terrorist organization is a perception of powerlessness. Terrorism is a tactic adopted by those who cannot “win” a fair fight, the response of the “little guys” to the “big bully,” resorting to cheating or trickery or unfair fighting to strike back at the bully. In this regard, it is interesting to note that as Hamas gained some legitimate political power, it began to back off somewhat from its terrorist rhetoric and tactics. Terrorism is the “weapon” of the oppressed and the weak (unwarranted and morally unjustifiable), just as militarism is the “weapon” of the oppressor and the strong (just as unwarranted and just as morally unjustifiable!).
  • In that case, it is clear why a “bullying” response to terrorism is useless. It merely confirms the terrorist’s point of view and redoubles the determination to go on. The only way to defuse or contain terrorism is to stop the bullying … and to share power! But that is the one thing we are not prepared to do. We want to dictate the terms for the rest of the world. Unfortunately, as long as we insist on doing so, we provide a ripe environment for the growth of terrorism.
ten steps

ten steps

Worth checking out: Ten Steps to Restore the United States’ Moral Authority: A Common Sense Agenda for the 110th Congress

This document posted on the Human Rights Watch website provides a good summary of the ways the conduct of the war on terrorism has undermined the consistent application by the United States of basic principles of human rights and suggests a specific agenda for restoring our moral compass. Signatories include Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights, the Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ, and close to twenty other religious and human rights organizations.

secret proceedings

secret proceedings

From a March 8, 2007 article by Andrew Buncombe in The Independent:

Campaigners have condemned the Bush administration’s plan to proceed with secret proceedings [Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT)] against 14 “high-value” terrorism suspects currently being held at Guantanamo Bay. The suspects include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, accused of organising the 11 September 2001 attacks.

The military tribunals, scheduled to begin tomorrow, will take place behind closed doors and away from the scrutiny of the media. Hundreds of previous hearings held to determine the formal status of the prisoners have been open to reporters. None of the suspects will be able to have a lawyer present …

Wells Dixon, a lawyer with the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, which represents one of the men due to go before a CSRT, Majid Khan, said: “This is a system designed to obtain a pre-determined result.”

Mr. Dixon said that Mr. Bush had admitted the 14 men had been subjected to “enhanced interrogation” techniques which he said was a euphemism for torture. He added that under the CSRT rules the government could use information obtained under torture. He added: “You don’t know what is true until you have given them a fair trial.”

Secret proceedings, no lawyers, “enhanced interrogation techniques” …… “High-value” suspects or not, this is no recipe for justice, and no recipe for winning the hearts and minds of the international community which is the key to winning the war on terrorism! If we want to win that war, we must show we are committted — truly committed — to justice for its own sake, and to the rule of law as a matter of principle, not just when it happens to suit our purposes or serves to protect those we choose to protect.

ny times on torture compromise: a bad bargain

ny times on torture compromise: a bad bargain

It is the rule of law that protects citizens and nations from tyranny. When we agree together to adhere to a law that binds both of us/all of us then we have a standard to which both of us/all of us are held accountable, and a means to address grievances with each other. When one party holds itself above the law or redefines the law unilaterally, then there is no longer any common standard and no means of holding anyone accountable. It simply becomes a matter of who is bigger, who is stronger, who can impose their will on the other. In other words, we have opened the doors to tyranny.

That is the danger in the present adminstration’s attempts to rewrite/redefine/circumvent the common standards for treatment of detainees outlined in the Geneva Conventions. If we can convict prisoners on the basis of undisclosed evidence, if we can indefinitely detain people we deem a threat, if we can use “extraordinary” means of interrogation when we have determined the threat warrants it, then anybody can. There is no rule of law, no common standard, no mutual accountability. Even if we may be safer — which itself is a highly debatable proposition — we will certainly be sorrier.

Read the New York Times editorial addressing the compromise reached between the present administration and the Republican senators who took issue with its proposed rules for detention and interrogation.

Published: September 22, 2006

Here is a way to measure how seriously President Bush was willing to compromise on the military tribunals bill: Less than an hour after an agreement was announced yesterday with three leading Republican senators, the White House was already laying a path to wiggle out of its one real concession.

About the only thing that Senators John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham had to show for their defiance was Mr. Bush’s agreement to drop his insistence on allowing prosecutors of suspected terrorists to introduce classified evidence kept secret from the defendant. The White House agreed to abide by the rules of courts-martial, which bar secret evidence. (Although the administration’s supporters continually claim this means giving classified information to terrorists, the rules actually provide for reviewing, editing and summarizing classified material. Evidence that cannot be safely declassified cannot be introduced.)

This is a critical point. As Senator Graham keeps noting, the United States would never stand for any other country’s convicting an American citizen with undisclosed, secret evidence. So it seemed like a significant concession — until Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, briefed reporters yesterday evening. He said that while the White House wants to honor this deal, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter, still wants to permit secret evidence and should certainly have his say. To accept this spin requires believing that Mr. Hunter, who railroaded Mr. Bush’s original bill through his committee, is going to take any action not blessed by the White House.

On other issues, the three rebel senators achieved only modest improvements on the White House’s original positions. They wanted to bar evidence obtained through coercion. Now, they have agreed to allow it if a judge finds it reliable (which coerced evidence hardly can be) and relevant to guilt or innocence. The way coercion is measured in the bill, even those protections would not apply to the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.

The deal does next to nothing to stop the president from reinterpreting the Geneva Conventions. While the White House agreed to a list of “grave breaches” of the conventions that could be prosecuted as war crimes, it stipulated that the president could decide on his own what actions might be a lesser breach of the Geneva Conventions and what interrogation techniques he considered permissible. It’s not clear how much the public will ultimately learn about those decisions. They will be contained in an executive order that is supposed to be made public, but Mr. Hadley reiterated that specific interrogation techniques will remain secret.

Even before the compromises began to emerge, the overall bill prepared by the three senators had fatal flaws. It allows the president to declare any foreigner, anywhere, an “illegal enemy combatant” using a dangerously broad definition, and detain him without any trial. It not only fails to deal with the fact that many of the Guantánamo detainees are not terrorists and will never be charged, but it also chokes off any judicial review.

The Democrats have largely stood silent and allowed the trio of Republicans to do the lifting. It’s time for them to either try to fix this bill or delay it until after the election. The American people expect their leaders to clean up this mess without endangering U.S. troops, eviscerating American standards of justice, or further harming the nation’s severely damaged reputation.

our nation’s greatness?

our nation’s greatness?

From an article by R. Jeffrey Smith in the Washington Post, August 9, 2006: The Bush administration has drafted amendments to a war crimes law that would eliminate the risk of prosecution for political appointees, CIA officers and former military personnel for humiliating or degrading war prisoners, according to U.S. officials and a copy of the amendments …

“People have gotten worried, thinking that it’s quite likely they might be under a microscope,” said a U.S. official. Foreigners are using accusations of unlawful U.S. behavior as a way to rein in American power, the official said, and the amendments are partly meant to fend this off.

They should be under a microscope! Power secured at the expense of human dignity is a corrupting, degrading power. Our nation’s greatness (what greatness there is) is its legacy of putting right before might, of showing the world another way, a way of respect for the rule of law and of respect for human rights, for the rights of all human beings.

When self-preservation and self-aggrandizement and consolidation of power become our top priorities, we are not great at all, but a poor and miserable nation, with nothing of value to offer the rest of the world. The welfare of humanity as a whole demands that we be scrutinized and that our power be reined in.

It is our duty as citizens of this nation to take the lead, to be aware of what our government is doing, and to let our leaders know in no uncertain terms what sort of greatness we want!