According to an article from The Associated Press, “Guantanamo [is] a political win GOP needed.” The story is referencing the vote in the Senate that occurred earlier today. In a vote of 90 to 6, the Senate overwhelmingly opposed President Obama’s effort to close the prison that harbors accused terrorists at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
Every Republican member of the Senate passed on the opportunity to recognize that terrorist combatants do have Constitutional rights and that protections of the Bill of Rights apply to all persons under the jurisdiction of the U.S. regardless of where in the world that jurisdiction prevails.
As you know, one of Barack Obama’s first acts as president was to order the closing of the controversial prison for terrorist suspects within a year. Obama had campaigned on the issue, but Republicans pounced on what they correctly asserted to be a critical flaw: the lack of detailed plans for where the roughly 240 detainees would go if the Cuban prison were shut down.
On that point, the town of Hardin, Montana (pop. 3,400) has volunteered to house 40% of the detainees (about 100 of them) in a state prison facility that is vacant.
Greg Smith, Economic Development Director in Hardin, says that there are 464 beds in the facility and over 120 jobs could be created by moving those prisoners to Hardin. With flat land, a state-of-the-art corrections facility, and a Mayor (and City Council) willing to house the suspects, all it would have taken was a simple Senate vote in favor of closing Gitmo.
That vote, however, would require Senators to have a backbone and LEAD the country — something foreign to them. Only six Senators, all from the far left wing of the Democrat Party, had the courage to vote in favor of the funding to move the captives to U.S. soil.
Why should we house these accused terrorists in the U.S.? The fact is that housing them in Gitmo has denied the terrorist suspects their constitutional rights and there is simply no possibility that piecemeal changes in law could create a legal system at Guantanamo equal to the U.S. criminal justice or courts martial systems.
Additionally, the detentions of the terrorist suspects are only temporary expedients that apply only in the field of combat according to U.S. law. Since we’re not at war with Cuba, the legitimate idea of temporarily detaining combatants in a war zone does not apply.
According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, the abuses at Guantanamo Bay carried out at the beckon call of high-level government officials include widespread abuse:
• solitary confinement of detainees for periods exceeding a year;
• sleep deprivation of detainees for days, weeks, or months;
• exposure of detainees to prolonged temperature extremes;
• beatings of detainees;
• threats of transfer to a foreign country for torture;
• torture in foreign countries or at U.S. military bases abroad before transfer to Guantánamo;
• sexual harassment and rape or threat of rape against detainees;
• deprivation of medical treatment for serious conditions, or treatment granted only for “cooperating”; and
• “short-shackling,” where wrists and ankles are bound together and to the floor for hours or day.
I realize these suspects are accused of being terrorists and several of them were involved in the 911 attacks. I have tremendous sympathy for victims (and their families) of these accused terrorists and am quite convinced that the detainees at Gitmo are quite literally the scum of the earth.
That said, those accused of crimes in a nation governed by the rule of law are entitled to equal treatment under the law and due process rights under the Fifth Amendment as well as protection from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.
In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Boumediene v. Bush that the Guantanamo captives are entitled to the protection of the United States Constitution.
The Fifth Amendment includes “… nor shall [any person] be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law …”. Further, the Eighth Amendment guarantees freedom from “cruel and unusual punishment” by government.
In Furman v. Georgia (1972), Justice Brennan wrote that “[t]here are … four principles by which we may determine whether a particular punishment is ‘cruel and unusual’.” They include:
- The “essential predicate” is “that a punishment must not by its severity be degrading to human dignity,” especially torture.
- “A severe punishment that is obviously inflicted in wholly arbitrary fashion.”
- “A severe punishment that is clearly and totally rejected throughout society.”
- “A severe punishment that is patently unnecessary.”
The torture procedures that the Bush Administration, the Republicans in Congress, and the spineless Democrats who purport to be civil libertarians have gone along with violate constitutional protections and are clearly ‘cruel and unusual’ tactics under the definition of the U.S. Supreme Court. The types of torture that have been used against suspected terrorists also violate the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture (both signed by the U.S.).
Moreover, the techniques are not effective. According to the U.S. Army Interrogation Field Manuel 34-52 (1992), “Use of torture and other illegal methods is a poor technique that yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.”
And according to the Center for Constitutional Rights,
“If someone has information, they are just as likely, if not more so, to disclose the information after non-abusive interrogation tactics. Second, many who are interrogated do not have information to give. Third, whether or not a person has information, he or she will likely confess to anything to stop torture; thus the information obtained is never reliable.”
Quoth the AP article: “Republicans have searched mightily for a good political issue this year as their traditional three Gs — gays, guns and God — have lost some steam. Now a fourth G — Guantanamo Bay — is handing them big boost.”
The issue of Guantanamo may be giving Republicans a boost in popular support, but it is at the sacrifice of the U.S. Constitution and a respect for the rule of law.
Over the last eight years, the Bush Administration has systematically dismantled some of the most important rights and protections of the United States Constitution.
The time to stand up for the Constitution is NOW. Americans oppose the Bush-Cheney torture policies and a free nation based on the rule of law requires more of its government and its elected officials.