The Bill of Rights—the essence of American civil liberties—contains crucial provisions for protecting free speech, due process, and a fair and speedy trial among other things. The U.S. Constitution, in turn, was arguably a precedent for Universal Declaration of Human Rights. One might assume that as the descendants of this tradition, the people and the government of the United States would believe in the universal application of human rights around the world.
However, the opposite is the case–at least for now. Ever since the War on Terror began, the Bush administration has been infringing on the civil liberties and rights of American citizens. It started off with a bill with an unnecessarily long and now infamous name: the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. After a series of bills, the Military Commission Acts was adopted in 2006 and gave the U.S. President absolute powers to label a non-American citizen an enemy of the state, imprison him without charging him with a crime, and deny him the right to due process. In view of the fact that this act is obvious breach of the Bill of Rights, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has called it a rejection of core American values.
Since this does not affect American citizens’ right to habeas corpus and a fair trial directly, perhaps they should not be worried too much about it. Many would argue that with the unprecedented complexities of determining enemy actions in the War on Terror, the ordinary procedures of establishing crime may not be effective and that some liberties must be forsaken for increased homeland security. Perhaps allowing the government to monitor your phone calls is prudent if it prevents future terrorist attacks.
However, American citizens should be aware of the record of its government’s record abroad when there is no constitutional or judicial oversight over their actions. A government that disregards human values abroad, engages in torture, and arbitrarily detains people without a fair trial would have serious credibility question marks. How could citizens trust such a regime for their protection?
The Bush administration is such a regime. As Guantánamo Bay enters its seventh reprehensible year, it seems unlikely that truth about it will ever come out. The only reports of what happens inside of Guantánamo are leaked memos and words of some of captives who are lucky enough to be released. Most of these in detention inside Guantánamo are likely to remain there forever—lest they come out and speak of their torture ordeals, claims an attorney at the ACLU.
Guantánamo is only one small part of a series of serious human rights violations around the world. The CIA has been actively involved in an “extraordinary rendition” program under which possible suspects are arrested and flown to territories outside U.S. jurisdiction and interrogated by U.S. and foreign officials. The ACLU claims that one German citizen, El-Masri, was kidnapped by the CIA, taken to a “black site” in Afghanistan, tortured for two months, and eventually abandoned on a hillside in Albania without any explanation or charges.
And this is not an isolated example. Just in Pakistan, over 4,000 people have been arrested in connection with suspected terrorism. Half of them were handed over to foreign countries, and some of them resurfaced in Guantanamo Bay after being missing for months. Many of them were picked up without the knowledge of their families and hence were simply termed as “missing people”. After having her husband disappear mysteriously, a brave woman, Amina Janjua, was able to identify that her husband was indeed in the custody of the intelligence agencies in Pakistan. She challenged his detention, as well as that of the other Pakistanis, to the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The Supreme Court was hardly able to get a handful of these people brought to court, but then President Musharraf of Pakistan sacked over 60 of the judges of the High and Supreme courts of Pakistan. Most Pakistanis see this coming with American blessing and anti-American sentiment in Pakistan is at a record high.
As a result of the lack of due process, transparency, and judicial oversight, policy assessments and analysis have become increasingly suspect. Are these often pre-emptive arrests preventing terrorism? Are they really needed? Policy debates are difficult without access to information and media inquiries.
Furthermore, the Bush Administration does not take into account the fact that detainees are real humans who have real families. By denying these captives a fair trial, the U.S. government is only further antagonizing many people—each of these extraordinary renditions may result in thousands of people turning against the U.S. If one of the reasons behind terrorist attacks against the U.S. is anti-American sentiment, one must wonder why such an antagonizing step is constantly used.
Not everyone is as noble as Amina Janjua. Some will equate justice to revenge, and in the absence of a judiciary they can trust will take matters in their own hands. The Bush Administration would be partially responsible if a family member of any of these “missing people” ends up attacking a U.S. embassy.
Samad Khurram ’09 is a government concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.