Friday, December 08, 2006

A Rights-Free Zone

Donald Rumsfield made his farewell speech to the Department of Defense today.
In a question-and-answer session, he was asked what was his best day and his worst day.

"Clearly, the worst day was Abu Ghraib, seeing what went on there and feeling so deeply sorry that that happened," he said without hesitation, referring to the scandal in the spring of 2004 that triggered worldwide condemnation and prompted him to twice offer his resignation to President George W. Bush at that time. Bush rejected those offers.
(trans - "Oh sh*t, they found out!)

And it is Abu Graib that just might come back to haunt him. He's being sued on behalf of nine former prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. "The lawsuit contends the men were beaten, suspended upside down from the ceiling by chains, urinated on, shocked, sexually humiliated, burned, locked inside boxes and subjected to mock executions," reports AP via the Guardian. Currently, a federal judge is trying to decide whether Rummie can even be sued in an American court by the plaintiffs.
``What you're asking for has never been done before,'' U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan told lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union.

...Lawyers for the ACLU and Human Rights First...argue that Rumsfeld and top military officials disregarded warnings about the abuse and authorized the use of illegal interrogation tactics that violated the constitutional rights of prisoners.

Foreigners outside the United States are not normally afforded the same protections as U.S. citizens, and Hogan said he was wary about extending the Constitution across the globe.

Doing so, he said, might subject government officials to all sorts of political suits. Osama bin Laden could sue, Hogan said, claiming two American presidents threatened to have him murdered.

``How do you control that?'' Hogan asked. ``Where does it stop? Does it stop at the secretary of defense? Does it stop at the president? How does this work?''
Meanwhile, the administration's legal eagles are busy spitting up the usual defense - that Bush is The Decider and anyone who turns his Decidings into actions is immune because of...well...his Imperial Majesty. The Washington Post has their explanation:
The Bush administration asserted in federal court yesterday that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and three former military officials cannot be held liable for the alleged torture of nine Afghans and Iraqis in U.S. military detention camps because the detainees have no standing to sue in U.S. courts.

Deputy Assistant Attorney General C. Frederick Beckner III also argued that a decision by the court to let a trial proceed would amount to an infringement by the judiciary on the president's power to wage war and would open the door to new litigation in U.S. courts by foreign nationals who feel aggrieved by U.S. government policies.

"Foreign aliens abroad enjoy no constitutional rights," Beckner told Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan at a hearing on a government motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed on behalf of the defendants by the American Civil Liberties Union and human rights groups.

Becker's colleagues said the lawsuit inappropriately sought to hold Rumsfeld and the others responsible for official acts and expressed concern that soldiers in the future might feel constrained on the battlefield by the fear of being sued.
It's pretty simple. The constitution says treaties count as U.S. law and the War Crimes Act makes contravening the Geneva Convention - which the U.S. is bound to by treaty - a criminal offence. The plaintiffs were tortured in contravention of the Geneva Convention. That makes it the business of the U.S. courts. The President's powers, the nationality of the plaintiffs and the actions of other possible future claimants have no bearing on those stark facts. The plaintiffs lawyers have the right of it - the Bush administration is trying to body swerve the whole thing by claiming immunity under all law. They aren't even trying to make a case for Rumsfield's non-complicity as yet, just short-circuiting international and U.S. law.
ACLU counsel Lucas Guttentag argued that the right to be free from torture is universal and enforceable in a U.S. court, in war and peacetime. He said Rumsfeld and the military officials were aware of this and knew about the abuses but either approved or failed to prevent them.

His colleagues argued that because the U.S. military is exempt from laws in Iraq and Afghanistan, only U.S. courts can enforce anti-torture laws there. Otherwise, one said, Iraq would be a "rights-free zone."
Not just Iraq, if the administration's lawyers are to be believed. The whole world would be a rights-free zone for any war-president and his officials.

Postscript: This isn't the kind of area where any amount of congressional "oversight" will have any kind of effect. Yet the Beltway Dems have already set aside the only real congressional remedy - investigative hearings and possibly impeachment - because what they are really interested in is being re-elected and getting a Dem in the White House. Which by the Nuremberg Principles, let me say, makes them culpable for any such wrongdoing too. And also makes them, in my opinion, just as inadequate to be leading the American nation as the Republicans.

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