President Bush has announced that he will transfer 14 detainees from secret CIA facilities to Guantánamo. According to news reports, the men will “stand trial” there.
Call me superstitious, but it’s a fact that certain places are cursed by bad spirits. Example: Guantánamo. From the Haitian refugees who languished there in the 1990s to the orange-suited, blackout-goggled, shackled detainees of the War on Terror, abject souls have sat in cages and waited for … who-knows-what. As bad as GTMO might be – and it seems pretty bad in the reports we’ve heard from those who were there – some places must be worse. For someone emerging from one of our secret CIA facilities, GTMO might be an improvement.
How terrifying must it be, to be snatched off the street, blinded, deafened, probed, tied up like an animal, and whisked away to who-knows-where. Do you try to figure out what country you’re in? By smell? By sounds? By the quality of light, if there is any? What is it like to be told by your captor that no one knows where you are, or what has happened to you? To be beaten, tortured and humiliated, not knowing what will come next, whether you will die or face something maybe even worse. To think of your family, worrying and wondering what has happened to you. From that hellish half-existence, President Bush will bring these 14 men to the relative oasis of GTMO. There, at least you know you still exist.
But what then? What will happen to the 14 men at GTMO? The news reports have said the men will stand “trial.” But the administration does not plan “trials” in any American sense of the word, whether we’re talking about civilian trials or military courts-martial. At trials and courts-martial, we don’t use secret evidence. We don’t use coerced evidence. We have due process. This is the rule of law. It makes our country a beacon of freedom and justice the world over. People from the Founders to the men and women who fought (and fight) for civil rights thought hard, sweated, and bled so that we would live by the rule of law, established by the people, and not by the rule of force or kings. It’s not just an abstract principle, it’s the foundation of the house we live in.
President Bush wants to throw the foundation out and create a new system of military “tribunals.” What for? Maybe these 14 men committed acts of terrorism. If they did, what do we have to fear from giving them fair trials based on rules recommended by experienced JAG officers of the U.S. military and pressed for by U.S. Senators Warner, McCain and Graham? President Bush may not have faith in the U.S. justice system, but some of us still do.