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September 2006 Newsletter

The Law Gets a Toehold


The Law Gets a Toehold

(Excerpts from an article by Bob Herbert in The New York Times, July 13, 2006.)

Could it be? Will the Bush administration, under pressure from the Supreme court...make an attempt to emerge from the Middle Ages? Is the post-9/11 American Inquisition beginning to come undone?

Here’s the way it has been. The administration has rounded up people at various points on the globe and dumped them like the US prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba….In the administration view, these prisoners had no rights. They could be kept in a state of permanent degradation. They had no rights to a lawyer or even to see the evidence against them. They could be sentenced to life in prison or even death in what could only be called a kangaroo court. The entire system was rigged. Hearsay evidence would be allowed. Witnesses could be concealed. Information obtained through abuse and even torture could be used. The Center for Constitutional Rights...noted that a prisoner named Hadj Boudella was told by military intelligence officers: “You are in a place where there is no law. We are the law.” Lawyers from the Center have fought long and heroically to bring even the most minimum legal protections to the prisoners.

...Two weeks ago, in...a landmark ruling, Hamden v. Rumsfeld, the courts declared that the Guantanamo detainees were covered by a provision of the Geneva Conventions known as Common Article 3. It prohibits cruel and inhumane treatment and requires that prisoners receive “all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized people.”… “The opinion in Hamden is really historic,” said Bill Goodman, the Center’s legal director. “On the one hand, it tells the executive branch that it will not be free to act as it chooses, which means to act lawlessly. At the same time, it acknowledges as part of American law certain international minimums of decency, morality, and ethics...encompassed in Common Article 3.”...I asked Mr. Goodman why Americans should care about the treatment of detainees. He said: “It’s important for the American people to know that this has been done in their name so that they can disavow it, disclaim it. We have to see what we have done. And at that point, we have to say ‘Oh my god, we can’t do this anymore.’ ”

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