The Supreme Court of the United States of America yesterday ruled against President Bush’s plans to try Guantanamo inmates in military courts. This means President Bush has no alternative other than trying those suspects—of which only ten have been charged—in US civil courts. In this post I aim to explain the logic behind this decision.
The key controversy surrounding this case was whether or not to accept the Guantanamo inmates as prisoners of war; and, subsequently, whether or not to deal with them as per the provisions of the Geneva Convention. President Bush and company refused to deem them prisoners of war, and, therefore, refused to treat them according to the Geneva Convention. The judges, citing article 3 of the Convention, ruled that Al-Qaeda combatants are prisoners of war and that they deserve treatment according to the Geneva Convention.
Article 3 provides:
In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:
- Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.”
The military tribunals, carrying out the trials of the detainees, are authorized by President Bush to:
- Provide evidence acquired by torturing the defendants
- Assert pressure on the defendants’ attorneys otherwise not allowed in civilian courts
- Keep parts of the trial secret from the defendant.
However, all three of these authorities provided by President Bush are against the Geneva Convention. Again, according to the Convention:
… the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
(a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(b) Taking of hostages;
(c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;
(d) The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.
Hence, the judges ruled President Bush’s decision to try Guantanamo inmates in military tribunals illegal. However, it may reasonably be inferred, that the suspects kept at Abu Ghraib and Bagram (Afghanistan), may also have to be tried in civilian courts.
Links worth visiting:
- The Geneva Convention—United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCHR)
- By the Numbers: Findings of the Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project—Human Rights Watch
- Bagram Airbase—Wikipedia
- Bagram Torture and Prisoner Abuse—Wikipedia
- Guantanamo Suicides: an Act of War?—MyScribbles: Write-ups of an Afghan.
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