Monday, May 29, 2006

The ABCs of Terrorism

I mean ABC's kind of literally. The British newspaper The Independent reported yesterday that at least 17 and possibly as many as 60 of the detainees at Guantanamo were definitely minors when they were captured. Some were as young as 14. Some of these child-soldiers have been held in solitary confinement, repeatedly interrogated, and apparently tortured. Only three have been held in a special facility designed for children and only one is thought to have been an actual combatant. The supporting casework was done by Reprieve, a UK charity working against the death penalty and other human rights violations. It's corroborated by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

This situation is so despicable on so many levels I hardly know where to start. Not to put too fine a point on it, we've been holding children for years, without access to legal assistance or trial, with adult prisoners, and in disgraceful conditions. How is this not terror? You know, though, what the White House is going to say. Children can be terrorists. I concede that point, by the way. Children can be dangerous. But next, the official briefing will claim that the children gave up their rights to be treated as soldiers when they didn't wear uniforms and act like soldiers -which of course in most of the world is not something children can legitimately do. Nonetheless, we don't have to abide by the Geneva Conventions. Sounds familiar. Say that's all true, just for the sake of argument -even though we also have well-documented case law supporting the notion that children are not capable of ceding their rights. I'd still argue that we ought to hold ourselves to a higher standard than the standard to which terrorists hold themselves.

Okay, so international law isn't good enough for us. We also have internal laws against holding child prisoners in the same facility as adult prisoners -even if, by the way, the child was tried as an adult. Oh, but I forget. We don't have to follow our own laws either. I knew that. Sorry. I just forgot.

To use British slang, because it seems appropriate under the circumstances (and it doesn't mean what it sounds like it means. THAT'S American slang!) -this is quite a cock-up. A quick run-through of the British press and a few British blogs suggests that it won't take much for the United States to lose essentially its only ally in this war. Having been repeatedly promised that there were no children at Guantanamo -or if there were, they were being carefully treated, it now seems that they were lied to. The British leadership seems surprised by this. Relax. You'll get used to it.

So, we're doing something morally and ethically disgraceful. We're breaking still more international and domestic laws. We're losing still more international support for this war. And, I can't imagine that this news will do anything helpful to President Bush's approval ratings or the domestic support for his wars. Will it galvanize the American public to take action? What action can we take when our own laws and procedures can so capriciously be ignored? And what will we find out next?

No comments: