Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Possibly Landmark Ruling

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Rarely does a United States Supreme Court decision actually get me fairly excited, but today's decision making military tribunals at Guantánamo unconstitutional really perked my ears up when I first heard about it this afternoon on NPR's "All Things Considered."

Forget about all the legal justifications about its going against federal statute and a Geneva Convention provision. Look at it simply from a human rights standpoint. How would you feel if you were detained for having connections that you actually don't have, or doing something that you didn't actually do? Then imagine how you'd feel if you had no human rights to speak of as a prisoner, thus having almost no way to defend yourself. I can only imagine how nightmarish that could be, even for a fundamentalist prisoner who hates America and doesn't fear death.

That is why I've always been rather queasy about the terrorist-fighting policies that have been adopted by this Bush administration: secretly tapping into our private lives, holding prisoners without reason or human rights, etc. President George W. Bush justifies it, of course: we have to be aggressive to win the war on terror. Perhaps; history has shown presidents to suspend certain rights in time of war. But at the cost of compromising long-held American values like giving even prisoners with terrorist ties equal protection under the law? That gives me pause. It's not political---is it ever political with me?---it's simply humanistic.

Now that the highest court of the land has put a dent on one controversial facet of President Bush's "active" methods of crimefighting, it'll be interesting to see how the president and Congress responds. Maybe I'm being too idealistic, but there just has to be some other way to combat terrorism without becoming almost as ruthless ourselves.


Anonymous said...

While I don't agree with Bush on so many of his policies I see the fight against terrorism as a moral dilemma. You can't be nice to terrorists, or humane or even fair really. They aren't any of these things, why should we be? You have to be tough and ruthless, even though this sounds awful and may be repugnant to some. Just this week there was a gang in Miami arrested for an alleged plot to blow up the Sears Tower and other buildings. Now there are community protests over their treatment. Come on! Do we want to sit by and wait until the damage is done before we take action or do we want to be pro-active? Intelligence shows us that the FBI and CIA were aware of some of the 9/11 terrorists including Atta. months before they acted, yet nothing was done to stop them. Do we want to chance that again? Therein lies the problem. How we handle it is the quandry we face and will face from now on. Full humanistic rights or pre-emptive safety for our people and institutions? Choices, choices.

kenjfuj said...

Yeah. You're right, it is a moral dilemma. Believe me, I fully understand your viewpoint, and I'm not sure that there is another way to deal with people who don't fear death or who treat human lives as things to be used for their own purposes, political or otherwise. Maybe we do need to treat them with the same level of respect for humanity that they treat us: with not much respect. Still, I'd be lying if I said the humanist in me didn't shudder a little at the idea of anyone---even terrorists---getting less than a fair trial or being held against their will or being tortured. It's as if we're being as much terroristic as they are, and I suspect some would ask: Aren't we above that? Perhaps not, especially if this ruthless approach gets results.

I take it, then, that you're not too crazy about the Supreme Court's recent decision?

Anonymous said...

I have mixed feelings about the Supreme Court's decision. I believe in human rights and I do believe our behavior should be "above" the behavior of the terrorists. However, the war against terror is really a "war" and sometimes in war human rights are suspended, at least a bit. I will concede that the government maybe goes a bit overboard---for example in Gitmo there is a 19 year old Afghan who was captured at age 15. He has an American attorney and is being evaluated by psychiatrists who are saying he suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome. This case might be on the extreme side. He was too young to have been held there all these years. But in general, we have to be pro-active, whatever it takes, to intercept terrorists before they get the opportunity to strike us again, because it is certain that they are planning to act against us in the future. Waiting and not acting would be our worst mistake.