American Madness

Intelligent Criticism in the Service of a Better Nation

The Conscience of Humanity

Posted by Joel Friedlander | 2 Comments

In a New York Times article reported by William Glaberson, entitled “Judge Orders Five Detainees Freed From Guantanamo,” Mr. Glaberson states that:

Ruling from the bench, Judge Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court in Washington said that the information gathered on the men had been sufficient to hold them for intelligence purposes, but was not strong enough in court.

“To rest on so thin a reed would be inconsistent with this court’s obligation,” he said. He directed that the five men be released “forthwith” and urged the government not to appeal.

Of course, the government will appeal and the judge’s order will be stayed and these men, who have been imprisoned unjustly for 7 years, will rot in jail at least until the start of the Obama Administration.  Note here that the Supreme Court decision to grant Habeas Corpus rights to these men was made in June, 2008, and the government has delayed everything as much as they can.  In fact, in the case of 100 other men the article points out that the government is moving the court to stop the habeas corpus proceedings.

This is not academic minutiae of interest only to lawyers.  Before Magna Carta in England, and long after in other countries, it was the prerogative of the ruler to arrest people and just let them rot in prison with no recourse.  After Magna Carta, at least in England and later in the United States, if the ruler or the government arrested someone, they had to present their reasons to a competent court if they wanted to hold the prisoner.  Faced with the ruling of the Supreme Court that the prisoners in Guantanamo must be given a habeas corpus hearing, the government is arguing in the 100 cases mentioned above “that there were flaws in the ground rules of other judges for the Guantanamo cases that would require the government, among other things, to reveal classified evidence.”

Why is that necessary?  Let me quote from the film made from Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s book,
the Ox Bow Incident.  That film is about a lynching, but it is also about the right of the people to a fair trial and what is wrong with people taking the law into their own hands.  This letter in the film is written by one of three men who are unjustly hung with only circumstantial evidence presented against them.  They are charged with murder when the man supposedly killed is alive.  If you substitute the Bush Administrations “Justice Department,” for the lynch mob, and add beat, torture, and murder, to hanging, I think that this quote fills the bill of why we shouldn’t be doing what we have done in Guantanamo and in Abu Ghrab as well:

My Dear Wife.
Mr. Davies will tell you what’s happening here tonight. He’s a good man, and he’s done everything he can for me. I suppose there’s some other good men here, too, only they don’t seem to realize what they’re doing. They’re the ones I feel sorry for, ’cause it’ll be over for me in a little while, but they’ll have to go on rememberin’ for the rest of their lives. A man just naturally can’t take the law into his own hands and hang people without hurtin’ everybody in the world, ’cause then he’s just not breakin’ one law, but all laws. Law is a lot more than words you put in a book, or judges or lawyers or sheriffs you hire to carry it out. It’s everything people ever have found out about justice and what’s right and wrong. It’s the very conscience of humanity. There can’t be any such thing as civilization unless people have a conscience, because if people touch God anywhere, where is it except through their conscience? And what is anybody’s conscience except a little piece of the conscience of all men that ever lived? I guess that’s all I’ve got to say except – kiss the babies for me and God bless you.
Your husband, Donald.


2 Responses to “The Conscience of Humanity”

  1. Josh
    November 21st, 2008 @

    It’s a real problem. What do we do, repatriate them to their home countries for trial? bring them to The Hague?

  2. Joel Friedlander
    November 21st, 2008 @

    The problem is that if you send them home they may be put in jail there. That’s if they’re lucky. In some of the Arab countries they will immediately tortured or put to death. We have created a situation where there is only one place that they will really be safe, and that is in the United States. As to another trial it is apparent that there isn’t sufficient evidence to prove a case against them as a matter of law so they must be let go. Probably more than 80% of the people that are being held at Guantanamo should just be let go. We created this problem and now there probably isn’t any good solution.

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