Much has been made in recent months over the prison camps at Guantanamo Bay Cuba and the right of foreign combatants to be held without due process of law. With the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision (Kennedy siding with the majority) that the camps deprive suspected terrorists of the right to a fair trial, one has to ask himself or herself exactly how far Americans must go to accommodate those who illegally wage war against our armies and our citizens. To the conservative, the answer is simple and clear: we are not obligated to provide non-citizens with the same criminal trials afforded to our own people.
While the Geneva Convention covered extensively the need for protecting prisoners of war and enemy combatants (yes, there is a difference) the Supreme Court decision leaves one to believe that the sovereignty of the U.S. often finds itself trumped by the importance of world opinion. In other words, many of the left and the left side of the court tend to err on the side of appearance even when our own safety is at risk. Under article 4 of the Geneva Convention, foreign combatants are not given POW status because they fight for an unrecognized government. The Geneva standards present us with one ultimate goal: to make sure that countries at war conduct themselves in a humane manner. However, how one country chooses to handle those who do not fall into the jurisdiction of the Geneva Code falls largely to the acting party.
In the United States, we are often called to set an example for the rest of the world, however unfair that might seem. To the politicians on the left, this means that we should sometimes forgo the rights of a sovereign nation and adhere to world opinion. To the conservative, this unfair obligation pales in comparison to the threat of terrorism. I will not go so far as to assert that liberals don’t have our best interest at hand, as that kind of demonizing turns discourse away from the true issues; rather, I will state that the focus on the left often shifts away from the American towards the American Brand. In the case of the Gitmo detainees, the Court has sided with the American Brand.
In the case of 200+ prisoners in Cuba, the Court has been fairly open with its criticism of the Bush plan but has not offered a viable alternative. My conservative partners and I contend that giving civil trials to terrorists and enemy combatants affords illegal soldiers more civil rights than American soldiers would receive under our current system. I can only imagine a situation where captured Al Qaeda terrorists are released because an American soldier in a war zone forgets to administer Miranda Rights. Now I agree that holding a prisoner for 6 years without any sort of trial doesn’t exhibit the picture of due process, but I think that a variation of the Gitmo camps mingled with an expedient military tribunal meets the ethical standards set forth by the Geneva Code.
In truth, I feel that the need for a new system of detaining combatants appears eminent. What I do fear, however, is that in the search for this new system the opinions of our European and African brothers and sisters will play a larger role than intellectual reason.