Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Shipped Out

An article about the U.S. operating prison ships has been on the waves for a couple of days, now.

Personally, I couldn’t care less if the government keeps prisoners in land-based prisons, barges on San Franfreako Bay, or domed cities on the Moon. It doesn’t concern me.

What does give me pause is the notion of imprisonment without trial, which is one of the claims being tossed about in the news. The accusation appears true.

I understand that many if not most of these people wore no uniform and represented no specific country, when captured. Still, all human beings—whether in military fatigues or civilian attire—have basic human rights; and I expect my government to respect those rights. One such right is extending some sort of due process to those accused of a crime.

What is the primary purpose of a trial? The obvious answer is to determine guilt or innocence. Trials are the principle mechanisms by which humans make such determinations. So if no trial takes place, how is guilt or innocence ascertained? No examination of evidence—impartial, or otherwise—has taken place. No one has spoken in his own defense. No one has even made an open case against the defendant.

Such scenarios foster corruption, injustice, and abuse. Where is mistreatment more likely—in a trial whose proceedings are known and open to the public, or in semi-secretive detention without trial or hearing of any kind?

Some might argue: “But, Wes, these people are terrorists who were caught red-handed committing atrocities against American troops. There is no doubt as to their guilt.”

I understand the argument, and I’ll respond in two ways:

First, I seriously question the assertion that every single one of these people, without exception, was nabbed with the smoking gun in hand, as it were.

Second, if the case against the accused is so damning, then there’s no reason not to conduct a military trial, properly convict and sentence the criminal, and be done with it. The verdict no doubt will be swift, and the justice found in due process and openness will be satisfied.

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