Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What To Do About Gitmo?

(Photo: Detainees sit in a holding area watched by military police at Camp X-Ray inside Naval Base Guantanamo Bay,
Cuba, in January 2002. U.S. Department of Defense File / Reuters. From MSNBC)

Stories are up everywhere. Obama is going to close Gitmo! What do we do with the detainees?

First we have to answer one question. Are we a nation of laws?

If the answer is No, then the answer is easy: anything we want. That is probably the answer that many authoritarians would select if they could do so without anyone seeing them.

If the answer is Yes, then the answer is still easy. Longer, but easy. Transfer the detainees to the legal system -- either civil or military -- or send them to one of the international courts (hah!).

My reasoning is, I think, straightforward:
Nations of laws follow the law. They don't make up the law as they go along. They don't make exceptions to the law (especially laws restricting what the government can and can't do) for expediency.

The US has laws against murder, against conspiracy, against terrorism, and so forth. If detainees have broken such laws, they should be punished. If not, not. Rules of evidence must apply, because the government must not benefit from their own lawbreaking.

But detainees might be released to attack us again! I hear some right-wing voices cry.

That's right. The rule of law is more important than individual safety. The rule of law is more important than any existential threat to the United States (which we don't face), because losing the rule of law IS an existential threat to the United States.

We were born of oppression, religious and otherwise. We were born of injustice, inside and outside legal systems. We were born of arbitrary rulings instead of the rule of law. We are better than the tyrants who drove our ancestors here. We are better than the Star Chamber, the Inquisition, the collectors and sellers of slaves, better than the carte blanche:
It is by my order and for the good of the state that the bearer of this has done what he has done.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal...
...Governments are Instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed...
WE, the PEOPLE of the UNITED STATES, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Without the rule of law, we are no longer the United States of America. We may bear the same name, but the heart is rotted, the head corrupt, the limbs twisted and foul.

No military tribunals except under existing and established military law.
No "going forward instead of looking back".
No "it will waste our political capital".

Legitimate claims of crimes committed during the Bush administrations must be investigated. If they are invalid, then they should be investigated and dropped. If they are valid claims, then there should be prosecutions -- regardless of the rank or level of the defendants.

It's that simple. To do less would be less than American.