America vs International Law | Teen Ink

America vs International Law

June 13, 2013
By hudsonbytheday PLATINUM, Toronto, Other
hudsonbytheday PLATINUM, Toronto, Other
23 articles 0 photos 6 comments

Favorite Quote:
The mind is a place in its self, it can make a heaven from hell, a hell from heaven.
- John Milton

Four years ago, President Obama announced that the notorious detainment camp, Guantanamo Bay, would be closed because of the criticism it drew from human rights groups. Yet today 166 detainees still remain at the detainment centre infamous for its abuses of human rights towards suspects of terrorism deemed too dangerous to be tried federally by the United States. As evidence of the injustice of the Bush administration military commissions mounts, it is apparent that the response to the war on terror is best dealt with by domestic judicial processes. The universally accepted rights of a fair trial, transparency, and freedom from torture have been violated by these commissions, and therefore the ongoing detention of the Guantanamo prisoners is void. This month, Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen and Guantanamo's youngest inmate, will be returning to Canada. Khadr was 15 when he was first detained and given a 40 year prison sentence, 10 years of which he has served. He will spend another 8 years in confinement. This example shows how international law has become increasingly complicated in this age of the war on terror. Some Canadians believed that it was necessary to extradite Khadr to Canada to face his charges and receive the protections he was entitled to as a minor under Canadian law. Others placed his terrorism charges in a separate category seemingly undeserving of any basic rights.

In 1942, the allies assembled the United Nations War Crimes Commission to record all known war crimes committed during World War Two. It was through this effort that the International Military Tribunal charged the 24 leading Nazis of crimes against humanity. In this leap in progress for international law, the same commissioners also warranted that the rights to a fair trial of a suspect would be upheld, even towards those suspected of the most atrocious crimes. Today, we know that our prisoners of war will be given a fair trial, and that we, in turn, are expected to uphold the same procedures. The Geneva Convention provides that "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" are prohibited (Article 3, section d of the Geneva Convention). This equality in justice is fundamental to international law and diplomacy. However, as we have seen in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, the right to a fair trial has been unjustly suspended. These military commissions were established in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and in 2006 were declared illegal by the Supreme Court of the United States. The current system of tribunals is still under public criticism by both human rights groups and even former interrogators. Some may argue that charges relating to terrorism are justifiable cases in which habeas corpus may be revoked. The war on terror is not a war between nations but the result of actions of a few members of radical groups and the international community's response in promoting stability. In the tense state of foreign affairs today, it is easy to forget that the actions of terrorists are criminal, and like any common criminal, those accused are entitled to a fair under the laws which they have breached.

Beginning in 2004, shocking photographs from the American prison compound Abu Gharib, Iraq, were released, showing Iraqi detainees being abused and sexually humiliated by American guards. The prison was created during the Iraq war, and because of a staff shortage, interrogation was left to military police officers, nine of whom were found guilty of abuse. This case demonstrated that the average citizen was unaware of the conditions of those who were being detained under the pretenses of their own law. A fair trial is impossible under the censorship imposed currently in cases regarding terrorism. The public expects access to information from the courts, regardless of whether the case is one of mass murder or a parking violation, at every stage of trial and appeal. Under the pretext of wartime measures, the United States' military commissions restrict public access to information. As we know so little about how the Guantanamo Bay detainees are tried, and even less about their conditions of imprisonment, the average person is left isolated from the most severe distortion of their nation's laws. To ensure court transparency, suspects of terrorism should be tried in open domestic courts, closer to the laws which are being imposed. Though it has its limits, transparency is essential for upholding the right to a fair trial, regardless of the nationality of the accused.

During the Irish Civil War, suspected members of the IRA were detained and tortured by the British Army. Infamously known as Operation Demetrius, their misconduct was appealed to the European Commission of Human Rights. The commission deemed the British Army's actions to be "a modern system of torture falling into the same category as those systems applied in previous times as a means of obtaining information and confessions" (Ireland v the United Kingdom).The debate over the use of torture, which when applied to a suspected terrorist may save the lives of thousands, is still relevant today. Nonetheless, torture remains a violation of human rights. In the past decade American officials have admitted to water boarding and subjecting suspected terrorists to torture in three cases. More prolifically, terrorist suspects have been covertly rendered to countries such as Egypt and Syria where abusive detentions are used for CIA interrogation purposes. If the terrorists were tried domestically, immunity from torture would be upheld by our domestic constitutions. Torture implies guilt; moreover it is imperative that every suspect is considered innocent before trial. The use of torture is a violation under any circumstance.

The 19th century French diplomat Talleyrand said that "war is much too serious a thing to be left to military men." This is why war criminals should be tried by the civilian courts of the nations whose laws they have violated, instead of the enemy militia. Though it has a purpose in the fight against terrorism, the military has no business in our legal system. In times of war or international insecurity, it is imperative that the rights to a fair trial, transparency, and freedom from torture are upheld to promote constructive diplomacy and sustainable peace. If the United States, one of the founding nations of our current system of international law, breaks the stipulations of its own framework, political disarray will follow. International law is based on the premise of respect between nations even in times of conflict, and that foreigners accused of crimes in another country should receive the same protections afforded to citizens of that country. Guantanamo reflects a failure of America's legal system, demonstrating that domestic legal safeguards are necessary for the protection of human rights.

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