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Sunday, March 06, 2005

Isolated Lawsuits Are Not Enough

7 August 2004

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Guantanamo prisoner, has filed a lawsuit against the US Government alleging torture at the hands of his American captors and challenging the constitutionality of the military tribunals for those captured in the "war on terror". The fact that a US Federal Court is now hearing the case is an important step forward for the rule of law, and a significant defeat for the Administration who claimed that it had a right to operate outside the oversight of the legal system in Guantanamo.

However, while I wish Mr Hamdan every bit of luck in obtaining the justice for himself,- that justice being his right to be tried in a court of law with the full protections granted to a defendant as opposed to a military tribunal, as well as getting those who violated his human rights prosecuted,- I believe that such isolated trials are not enough, even if the plaintiffs obtain justice there. I believe we as a society, all of us who adhere to the principles of Constitution regardless of their other beliefs, must state unequivocally that the Administration's attempts to operate outside of the law will not stand. We should write to the public figures, hold demonstrations in the streets, publish our views on the web and in the print media,- in other words, make it heard loud and clear that we demand that all laws of the land as well as international laws our country has ratified be respected by all executive officials.

And if you think that doing so may be tantamount to defending the people possibly involved in terror,- think of it differently. Our laws are not lenient when it comes to terrorism,- our courts can mete out a punishment severe enough to match the crime. Timothy McVeigh was executed for blowing up the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. Those responsible for the 1993 attack on the WTC are jailed for life. Thus we need not worry about the guilty not being punished. That may happen,- but anyone can be fooled, military authorities included.

And it is your own safety you are protecting by demanding that all executive authorities operate within the scope of the law. It is for your own sake that you are making sure that no government agents will take you away and lock you up in a prison brig as "enemy combatant". I grew up in a country where a whole generation of people lived through years when every family feared a knock on the door at night, where those lead away in the early morning hours often just vanished, leaving their families to tend for themselves as outcasts and pariahs. May no one have to live through that horror and learn what they had learned about what unconstrained government agents with a vengeance can do!

Originally published here.

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