Friday, January 12, 2007

Guantanamo: Five years of illegality

Five years ago today, the US shipped its first load of prisoners - drugged, shackled, and in total sensory deprivation - to its Caribbean gulag in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Since then, the place has become a synonym for everything that is wrong with America's "war on terror", a legal no-man's land where "enemy combatants" - less than half of whom are even accused of committing hostile acts against the US or its allies - are detained arbitrarily and indefinitely on "evidence" which is charitably described as "laughable", subjected to a Kafkaesque mockery of the judicial process, abused and tortured until they go mad or commit suicide. The place is an obscenity, an affront to our fundamental principles of justice which demand that everyone, no matter what they are accused of, is entitled to a fair trial, and that no-one, no matter what they have done, should be detained arbitrarily or tortured. Once upon a time, the US was a proud upholder of those principles. Now it has joined the Saudis, the Chinese, the Iranians, North Koreans, Uzbeks, Burmese, and a dozen other despotic, totalitarian abusers in pissing all over them. Where it differs from the others, however, is that it doesn't even have the decency to be properly ashamed about it.

Guantanamo has become a symbol of America's post-9/11 madness and its abandonment of the values it once held dear. And it is a warning that even governments which purport to uphold human rights can backslide - as our own has done with the shameful imprisonment without trial of Ahmed Zaoui, or the indefinite detention of Thomas Yadegary and at least six others (one of whom will soon be "celebrating" their third anniversary behind bars). It is a warning that governments can abandon their citizens, look the other way, and maintain a shameful silence on gross human rights abuses. We should not let them get away with it.

Guantanamo degrades America, it degrades our governments through their complicity, and by our failure to uphold universal human rights, it degrades and threatens us all. And after five years, there's really only one thing that can be said about it: Guantanamo delenda est: Guantanamo must be closed.


I know it's largely unrelated to this topic, and it's not yet close to three years, but I wondered whether you had any thoughts on Kay Skelton's indefinite detention. Is it you view that she should either have a trial for kidnapping (or perhaps for contempt of court) or be let free?

Do you even consider courts should have the power to try or imprison for contempt of court, or does that necessitate their being a judge in their own cause akin to Parliament trying contempts of Parliament?

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 1/12/2007 09:20:00 AM

I don't know enough about the case to comment. My uninformed impression though is that it is a modern version of peine forte et dure, with indefinite imprisonment rather than heavy stones being used to extract evidence.

And yes, contempt of court does smack of being judge in your own case. Its one thing where there has been a clear order (for example, a suppression order; that at least can be contested and is not arbitrary), its another when it happens in the courtroom on essentially a judge's whim. And that use of it - to enforce deference towards those with power - simply smacks of feudalism.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/12/2007 11:09:00 AM

IMHO it's because the Family Courts are 'special' where the rights of the parents are curtailed in order to ensure compliance. The procedures that allow the use of her detainment order was _specifically_ put in place to deter these kinds of situations. She was the child's guardian (at that time), and it was her obligation to present the child to the court. It's not her right to freedom that is the question here, its her child's right to habeas corpus that her family has conspired to deprive him of.

With that said, the Family Courts make some very peculiar judgments and do have peculiarites (for example there is no public review of decisions, ever.) that ordinary courts are not permitted. I believe that the family courts should be integrated into the ordinary judicial system.

Posted by Bloodrage : 1/12/2007 04:36:00 PM

j4lc3 - it's not the family court in this instance - it's the High Court.

The mother is being detained for refusing to comply with a writ of habeas corpus issued by the High Court.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 1/12/2007 04:49:00 PM