Thursday, October 1, 2009

In War and Peace

by Richard Crews

On the battlefield people kill one another legally, they take and hold prisoners without due cause or due process, they confiscate and destroy property without any legal proceedings whatsoever, they interrogate captives with minimal constraints.... Such are the "Laws of War."

But the Laws of War were born and bred in different times from our own--times when uniformed soldiers carried non-concealed weapons into battle--into battles which were easy to distinguish from non-battles.

Now the term "war" has been redefined--not just to include a "war on drugs" and a "war on poverty" but, equally ambiguously, a "war on terror"--there are no battles that come and go, no uniformed troops, and--most significantly--no distinguishable endpoint.

Soldiers captured in "normal" battle could be held for months--even a year or two--until the war was over. People taken prisoner in the war on terror can, apparently--since there is no endpoint--be held for the rest of their lives. Without due cause. Without due process. They cannot be brought to trial, apparently, because the "evidence" against them was not gathered or held in a responsible way (for example, the people who identified them originally are long gone; their "confessions" were obtained under torture and therefore cannot be considered as legal evidence).

One of the worst failings of the Obama administration is that he has not developed--by Executive orders and Congressional actions--any legal code and procedures for handling the unfortunates caught in this terrible limbo between civil rights and uncivil wrongs.

There is* an Afghan goat herder who prior to his capture (he was pointed out by neighboring villagers who got $50 for "turning him in") had never heard of most of what he has been accused of--what, under torture, he has admitted to. He has been incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay for over seven years, mostly in solitary confinement, often shackled, sleep-deprived, left at times to sit in his own urine and feces. He shall, apparently, spend the rest of his life in prison. Without trial; without charges.

Where are our "American values" in this? Where is "the long arc of history that bends towards justice"?


* When I say "there is" I mean "there could be"--we do not know for sure. There are quite a few prisoners who could be in (or close to) this category. Isn't that appalling?