Guess Who's Afraid of the Geneva Convention

George W. Bush hides out from human rights laws

Pardon me if I seem a little confused. What with the destruction of two skyscrapers in New York City, an undeclared war against an enemy no one ever bothered to define, and the shredding of the Bill of Rights by a president who claims that he's in a war against "evildoers", these last few months have been nothing if not staggering. This January, however, the administration of Bush Jr. has made an end run around the Constitution that leaves me feeling all fuzzy-headed trying to figure out its legal basis.

I'm sure you've heard about the "detainees" captured by unspecified U.S. forces in Afghanistan, bound with duct tape, drugged, and flown half-way around the world to a special prison built for them in the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Of course, you might not have heard of the term "detainee" until this month. You might have heard about "suspects" and "prisoners of war", but not "detainees". You see, until George W. Bush declared his war against evil wherever he finds it, the United States of America was not known for holding people captive without giving them access to the protections of the ordinary legal system (for criminal suspects) or to the looser yet at least standardized structures of the military legal system (for American soldiers accused of misconduct or for prisoners of war). Not since the internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II have there been "detainees", people who are held captive by the United States government just because it feels like it.

Having flown the Afghan captives all the way from Afghanistan, why didn't the Bush administration shell out the few extra bucks to fly them a few more miles to the United States? It wasn't laziness, but a premeditated scheme on the part of George W. Bush and his generals to avoid having to follow the laws of the United States of America. I'm not making this up. Go ahead and ask a representitive of the Bush administration and they'll tell you as much. The Afghan captives are being imprisoned at an offshore military base in order to prevent anyone from forcing the Bush administration to follow domestic civil rights laws or international human rights laws like the Geneva Convention.

Now, the Bush administration, which a few months ago told us it was fighting a war for freedom against fear, is telling the rest of the world to shove off and mind its own beeswax. George W. Bush has pronounced that the United States doesn't have to follow the Geneva Convention if it doesn't want to. Furthermore, he has told the American people that he has the right to suspend certain articles of the United States Constitution and its amendments if they get in the way of his crusade against evil. Again, it sounds incredible, but I'm not making this up. Go check out the online archives of the New York Times if you don't believe me.

We're told by President Bush and his representatives that the "detainees" (they refuse to call them "prisoners of war") don't deserve the human rights that are provided to them by the Geneva Convention or by the United States Constitution (that's right, the Constitution of the United States of Americans does not just apply to Americans, but states that "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby," (Article V, section 3)). The United States has signed the Geneva Convention, so it is now the law of the land. Now, President Bush may try to get around this constitutional obstacle by saying that the capitves in Cuba are not in any "state", but the fact is that American judges have jurisdiction over the military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Therefore, the Constitution applies there just as much as it does in New Jersey.

The Bush administration says that it has the power to ignore such issues, but the fact is that no one, not even the President, has the power to over-ride the Constitution. Only Congress can change the Constitution by official amendment, and so far Congress has made no amendment to allow the Bush administration to hold people captive on U.S. territory without charging them with crimes. The Bush administration says that it is taking as much time to figure out what it wants to do with its captives. That sounds deliberate, but the fact is that it is illegal in the United States for the goverment to just hold people captive, keeping them outside of the legal system, until it decides what it wants to do with them. That's what tyrannies do. Arbitrary and complete imprisonment is not something that civilized republics are supposed to allow their governments to do. Yet, that's exactly what George W. Bush has done, and so far, no one has been able to stop him.

The Bush administration says that it has the authority to hold these captives without treating them according to internationally-recognized human rights laws such as the Geneva Convention because the captives are not prisoners of war, but "criminals" that threaten the safety of the United States. The problem with that argument is that no one knows for sure that the captives are indeed criminals. In order to have the legal status of a criminal, one has to be convicted of a crime. The United States military is punishing its captives before their conviction by taking depriving them of their human rights and treating them in a manner not allowed by international law, on the basis of nothing but its own claim that these people have committed crimes! In this Catch-22, a captive is not allowed the right to self-defense because he is a criminal and does not deserve such rights. By this logic, the United States government has the authority to declare any person to be a criminal, undeserving of legal representation or human rights! Let's not forget that one of the great pillars of American freedom is the presumption that a person is innocent until that person is proven guilty. It appears that George W. Bush and his followers just don't care about such formalities.

Such law-breaking in the name of the law is confusing enough, but what really spins my head is that George W. Bush now has the audacity to claim that he has the power to capture people and treat them without regard to internationally recognized standards of human rights for prisoners of war because all of the people in Afghanistan who are in any way suspected of being connected to the airline attacks of September 11 are criminals. See, the thing that I don't get is that last autumn, Bush declared that he had the authority to wage war against Afghanistan because the attacks of September 11 were acts of war, not crimes, and were therefore outside of the legal system. That's a bit mind-boggling, so let's re-cap: first, George W. Bush said he could wage war against Afghanistan, bombing whoever he pleased because the attacks of September 11 were acts of war, not crimes. Now, George W. Bush says that he can capture anyone he wants in Afghanistan, fly them to Cuba and deprive them of the rights internationally guaranteed to them as prisoners of war because they are criminals, not soldiers. Something's missing here!

All this legal funny business in the White House has got me wondering: What is it that George W. Bush is so worried about? Does he think that if he treats his captives either as prisoners of war or as criminals that he won't be able to ensure their conviction either on the grounds of war crimes or on the domestic charge of mass murder? If he's worried about this, why has he taken these individuals captive in the first place? Why isn't he allowing any independent reporters unfettered access to the captives in Cuba? What is George W. Bush trying to hide?

I'm no closer to gaining access to the private prisoners of George W. Bush than anyone else, so I can't give a definite answer. However, it seems a bit more than coincidental to me that George W. Bush's father, as Vice-President under Ronald Reagan and former head of the CIA, was directly involved in the decision to train extremist Islamic groups in Afghanistan in the tactics of sabotage and guerilla warfare back in the 1980s. It's quite likely that at least some of the captives that Bush has secreted away in Guantanamo Bay were trained to kill under the authority of Bush's own father. Given the fact that George W. Bush has already withheld 55 documents from the Bush and Reagan administrations scheduled for release under the Freedom of Information Act, it isn't too much of a stretch to suppose that George W. Bush is keeping his captives in their Cuban cages, safe from the eyes of the American people, at least in part to protect his own father and to prevent American voters from asking sticky questions. Well, what goes around comes around, unless you keep it locked away in a dark dungeon, of course.

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