Unfinished Business

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by Stephen Phillips


What a great time to be an American, riding on a wave of unfettered patriotism!   Let’s all give ourselves a collective slap on the back over our glorious and decisive victory over the nasty Saddam and his deck of fools. 

--Oh, but wait a minute here: 

Before we break out the kegs of beer, party poppers, and silly hats, isn’t there some unfinished business to take care of first?  Anybody remember the country that America felt it necessary to invade in  pursuit of Osama bin Laden and his gang of cronies? Come on, now,  even with such a short memory for these things, surely you must know it--Afghanistan!

You know, the country that was once described as “the pearl of the middle east,” now looking more like a piece of cubic zirconium. The selfsame country that has been devastated by war, strife, tyranny and immense hardship;  whose capital, Kabul--once a thriving center of culture and sophistication--has now been reduced to a rubble-strewn hellhole that resembles Dresden at the end of the Second World War.   Oh well, there goes the neighborhood, I suppose! 

The Americans went storming in, determined to catch the perpetrators of 9/11 and bring them to justice, and quite rightly so.  And in this headlong rush to capture the bad guys, they managed to corral a bunch of folk whom the U.S. administration called dangerous criminals “who must be bought to justice’

That must be justice American-style:  round them up, ship them off to God knows where (without charge, by the way);  then deny them any independent legal counsel, don’t allow them any contact with their families or their respective governments, and finally, haul them before a military tribunal to face possible execution for their supposed crimes. According to reports, these criminals have been given two choices:  admit to their crimes, and spend the rest of their lives in jail;  or deny the charges, and face possible execution.  Some choice.

I would like to draw your attention to a document that has been used and abused ever since its inception in 1948.   At that time the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  In this charter, there are several articles that pertain directly to the treatment of combatants and prisoners.  They are:

 

Article 9. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Strike one for the U.S.  These people have been arbitrarily arrested, detained, and sent into exile.

 

Article 10. Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Strike two, as these people are as sure as hell not going to get an independent, impartial trial from a military tribunal made up entirely of US military officers.  And the only charge that has been leveled against them is that they are supposed members of a terrorist group--even though the vast majority of them had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11.

Article 11.  Everyone charged with a penal offense has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense.

That’s strike three.  In the eyes of the US administration, these folks are guilty already, and trying them in a military tribunal is just a matter of course.  This is not going to be a public trial.  Far from it.

But here’s the irony in this whole sorry tale. America is one of the member countries of the United Nations, and has frequently used the U.N. whenever it felt that it was to its own benefit.  But as was shown by its blatant disregard for the U.N. in invading Iraq, America obviously feels it can bypass the United Nations whenever that suits its agenda.

Here’s a little fact that has been somewhat overlooked:   These alleged terrorists are for the most part ordinary foot soldiers, who  decided to fight for what they thought was a righteous cause.  For that, they were prepared to put their lives on the line. 

Most of us have been led to believe that the Taliban was an oppressive regime, based on its implementation of very strict Sharia Muslim law.  These laws might not be to everyone’s taste, especially those of people in the West who believe that the only decent, upstanding religion is Christianity.  But let’s not forget that Christianity is only one of many religions that are practiced in the world.   As the saying goes “different strokes for different folks.”  So before we start condemning others’ beliefs as inappropriate, perhaps we should be a little more understanding of those faiths.

As for the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and his compatriots, this has been a complete and utter farce from the get go.  Millions of dollars have been spent to pursue and capture these people, and what do we have to show for it?  A country that is still in turmoil.  A people who are longing for stability.  A resurgence of the Taliban.  A government that controls barely one third of this lawless land.  No Osama bin Laden.  And let’s not forget the prisoners who are still being held without charge, awaiting a very dubious fate.

America, through the tragic events of 9/11, was given a great chance to step up to the plate and take the initiative in bringing order and justice to a country that has been crying out for stability for many years.  But this chance has been squandered.  Instead of showing leadership, the Bush Administration has thrown it all away, and the bonds that could have been forged with former enemies have been irrevocably damaged--no more so than within the United Nations.

What is taking place, not just at Guantanamo Bay, but in Afghanistan and Iraq, should make everybody stop and think.  Is this the way to seek justice for the people who so tragically lost their lives on that infamous day?   Continuing to hold these prisoners in isolation is illegal as well immoral, and it smacks of imperialism.

Ordinary people must join together in opposing Bush’s heavy-handed approach to justice.  Even if these supposed terrorists are indeed found to be guilty, they must be accorded their proper human rights, in keeping with international law--not arbitrarily tried and sentenced simply to satisfy America’s blood lust.

  COPYRIGHT 2003 STEPHEN PHILLIPS.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


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