By Dr. A. S. Nakadar
In 1199, John became the King of England. His abuses of power and injustices led the feudal barons and the other aristocracy of his time to raise a separate army, forcing him to choose between granting his citizensâ€™ rights or going to war with them. He had no alternative but to grant them their rights.
This laid a solid foundation for the constitutional government in England, and later in the USA, and their charter became known as the â€œMagna Carta.â€ In later centuries this document became a model for those who demanded democratic government and individual rights for all. The greatest value of the Magna Carta was that it placed the ruler himself under the rule of law and decisively checked his power.
Under American and English law, one of the basic guarantees of personal freedom is Habeas Corpus (latin meaning â€œproduce the bodyâ€). When a writ of Habeas Corpus is filed for an arrested person, the police have to produce the arrested person in court. The court then decides if the police have sufficient reason to hold the prisoner.
Now let us examine the present scenario. The detainees have been held at Guantanamo Bay for nearly 5 years without any trial. And President Bush recently acknowledged 14 other prisoners–suspected al Qaeda leaders–that were held in other locations by the CIA. They had been kept in secret facilities overseas and subjected to â€œalternativeâ€ interrogation techniques amounting to torture.
He admitted that the techniques were â€œtoughâ€ but claimed they did not violate U.S. laws barring torture. Considering his liberally expansive interpretations of law in the past, his statements and actions beg the question whether in fact he has once again conducted an invasion against the constitutional liberties of his citizens. The torture and humiliation of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay prompted human rights activists to file writs of habeas corpus in the US Supreme Court.
In June of 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that the administration must meet Geneva Convention Article 3 standards of detainee treatment. Article 3 prohibits nations engaged in combat from â€œviolence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and tortureâ€ and â€œoutrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.â€
This judgment embarrassed the President and his entire administration. To work around the Supreme Court decision, the president looked for a new resolution from US lawmakers. The resolution asked the US Congress to explicitly give the president â€œthe authority to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions.â€
In other words there would be no recourse against the flamboyant Bush administration interpretations of the Geneva conventions. Essentially this means it is up to the President of the United States to determine citizen access to the foundational principles of adherence to international treaties–and in fact this reflects President Bushâ€™s marriage to the idea that ultimately it is he who should determine the extent to which his citizens can access the core principles of human dignity in relation to their government–whether or not those principles have been enshrined over the millenium since they were first expressed.
Who now will determine the interpretation and the meaning of terms once completely beyond the reach of government? Phrases like coercion, torture, sexual abuse, humiliating treatment, grave offenses personal dignity, and grave danger to detainees.
The House approved the resolution without much hassle. The Senate passed the resolution with minor amendments, after a brief battle and subsequent compromise by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
Such an ambiguous compromise, following minor amendments in the resolution, would allow the president to define torture when and how he sees fit. It allows too much room for harsh interrogations and torture, denying detainees their legal rights.
Another aspect of the bill is that it expands the definition of â€œenemy combatantsâ€ who can be held without charges, to include those who knowingly support terrorist groups with arms, money and other activities. It is not difficult to see the wide implications and possible interpretations of such a bill.
Those who backed the bill said these provisions would choke off supplies to terrorist groups, but its critics said it was open to wide interpretation and could subject many more people to indefinite detention.
This Anti-Terror law is in contravention to the treaty written in 1984, since ratified by more than 130 countries, including the US in 1988 (see our website for this document)–called â€œThe Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment,â€ which forbids governments from â€œdeliberately inflicting severe physical or mental pain or suffering on those within their custody or control.â€
The Anti-Terror law eliminates the writ of habeas corpus, insulates the Bush administration from abuses against the Geneva Conventions, authorizes solely the president for its interpretation, and it makes all these amendments retroactive to November 1997. It is sad that our leaders are willing to abandon the core values enshrined in our constitution–the constitution that evolved from the Magna Carta.They are doing this in favor of fighting for their thuggish tactics, in the hope of retaining their power to impose their neo con ideology.
So, here we are in 21st Century, but our barons and aristocrats, (the House and Senate) are handing over on a silver platter the inalienable human rights, the basic components of the US constitution, once taken by sacrifice and blood from King John in 1199–back to the new king, US President GW Bush.