Tuesday, March 07, 2006

"Unprecedented legal protections:" coming soon to a detention facility near you

Alberto Gonzales tells us that prisoners at Gulag Guantanamo should be happy as clams, what with all the good food and excellent medical care. Indeed, though he did not spell it out, the good food and the excellent medical care are provided with the same feeding tube.

Best of all, the prisoners enjoy "unprecedented legal protection."
Gonzales said all detainees at the camp in eastern Cuba were granted an assessment by U.S. authorities, a right of reply and a separate, formal hearing of their case before a three-member tribunal with a right to appeal.
"We are aware of no other nation in history that has afforded such protection for enemy combatants," he told the International Institute for Strategic Studies. (Reuters)

And even better, he and George Bush show every sign of wanting to extend this unprecedented legal protection to the rest of us.

Personally, I think we are better off with precedented.

Now this is kinda tricky. What he said about unprecedented is, in fact, absolutely true. That's because the category "enemy combatant" is itself unprecedented, having not previously existed as a legal status, and is unknown in the Geneva Conventions, which, as it happens, we are signatory to, and which, under the Constitution, have the force of America law, or at least that was the case before the unprecedented set in.

Our creation of a bogus category like "enemy combatant" for prisoners is itself an unambiguous violation of the Geneva Conventions, which clearly, in the plainest possible language, oblige us to treat all prisoners taken in military operations as either soldiers who must be treated as prisoners of war (under the 3rd Geneva Convention,) or as civilians who must be charged with a crime and given a fair trial, (according to the 4th Geneva Convention.)

The 1st and 2nd Geneva Conventions specify treatment for wounded captives and captured sailors, respectively. All these categories of prisoners have specific rights, which, as the entire world now knows, we have denied them, including, for starters, the right not to be subjected to humiliation or torture.

We certainly do have every right to hold civilian terrorists prisoner. But the Geneva Conventions oblige us to charge them with specific crimes and put them on trial. We have every right to hold captured soldiers for the duration of a war. But they have to be treated as prisoners of war. We can charge them with war crimes, if we wish, but we have to present specific charges and give the accused soldiers at least the semblance of a fair trial.

Gonzales could probably do semblance, if he set his mind to it.

None of this has happened, not even the semblance. We have failed all our legal obligations under the Geneva Conventions. Is that what he means by unprecedented?

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