October 3, 2015
Shutting Down Guantanamo
Posted on Apr 24, 2007
Harris: We’re talking to Jumana Musa of Amnesty International about the suspension of habeas corpus in Guantanamo Bay, among other things. Jumana, if we follow your line of logic and we follow our own humanity and hearts, we see that something is clearly wrong in Guantanamo Bay. What would you like to see happen to right these wrongs?
Musa: I think our perspective has been pretty clear. It’s never been—although we get accused of such, of being these mushy human rights groups that don’t understand security and therefore are off on a tangent. I think the reality of the situation that people need to understand is this, and I’ve said it before: Never once have we said that nobody has ever committed a crime, that people who are truly al-Qaida that are actually plotting attacks and this type of thing are good guys and shouldn’t be detained. From our position, anybody who would commit those kinds of acts has to be detained. They should be charged and given a fair trial and, if found guilty, put in prison. Granted, we are a human rights organization and, certainly, we don’t believe in recourse to the death penalty for many reasons, but the simple fact is that that is not the road the U.S. has gone down. And the U.S. has made this so broad that we would love to see it narrowed back to the way things are supposed to be, which is this: If you’re at war with another country, you comply with the laws of war. You don’t make up your own new rules and say, “We’ve decided that Geneva Conventions don’t apply to anybody, unilaterally, because I’m the president and I said so. We’ve decided that rules against torture, if we don’t call them torture, don’t count. We’ve decided.” It’s that kind of unilateralism that has to go.
What would be positive is an absolute return back to the laws and treaties that were already in place for the U.S., using the systems in place to try people. You referenced the Military Commission. ... They said they needed the Military Commission back because without military commissions you couldn’t try any of the people in Guantanamo. What was very disingenuous about that is, the Department of Justice has touted over 250 terrorism convictions in U.S. courts. We have tried people for the first World Trade Center bombing here in U.S. courts. We’ve been able to deal with classified evidence here in U.S. courts. We have laws that accommodate that. We have laws that accommodate a lot of this. So I think, if anything, going back to the legal system that was in place before the U.S. went down this road, going back to the laws that were in place before the Military Commissions Act and actually complying with them. It’s not even making new rules, but complying with the laws and treaties the U.S. was already bound by before September 11th would go a long way towards fixing a lot of this. So it would be closing Guantanamo. It would be finally, absolutely, clearly renouncing the use of secret prisons, the use of a program ... what they call “extraordinary renditions,” the idea that you can pick somebody up and send them to a country where they may be likely to face torture, but you can get a promise so it’s OK. It’s not OK. And so if they were to rein themselves back in and follow the laws and treaties that were already in place, I think we would be miles ahead of where we were.
Harris: Do you find it at all ironic that you’re requesting that the Bush administration follow the conventions set ... in Geneva so many years ago, and they violated those very conventions when Bush decided to go to war? Do you really think that you’re going to be successful in this effort given your audience, given the Bush administration’s unwillingness to abide by those conventions, seriously?
Square, Site wide
Musa: Yes. And the reason I say that ... again ... I never said it was going to be a quick or easy fix, but I’ll say a couple of things. First, we have to be clear: We’re not an organization that’s partisan or promotes any one candidate, and the reason is, the next president doesn’t have to be Republican, doesn’t have to be somebody just like George Bush. Republicans and Democrats alike can violate human rights. I think our point about it is, this administration hasn’t been able to keep all their programs in place and they have had push-back, and they’ve had it from the other branches of government. They wanted to say that none of the Geneva Conventions applied. They just can’t say that anymore because the Supreme Court said it did, and they just can’t pretend that the Supreme Court didn’t speak, so there are checks on the system. Congress passed laws, and they can’t say they don’t count. They try to issue signing statements, but it’s important to remember that people have really questioned those signing statements that said, yes, I’m signing this bill with my understanding of the law, which, as you know, if you look at the Bush administration’s understanding of the law, it’s that the president doesn’t have to comply with it because he’s the commander in chief.
At the same time, the people would actually have to implement some of these things, such as interrogation techniques, that might violate not only what were existing obligations but these new laws, or these new rulings from the Supreme Court. Those folks have their own personal interest, to the point that it’s not the Bush administration as a whole that would go on trial if somebody was held accountable for torture or other bad behavior of people in custody. It would be that individual, and so that’s also a check on the system. It’s what are individuals willing to do and are they willing to risk themselves? And I think increasingly we’re seeing that people are not. So, again, I’m not saying that it’s because this administration has somehow seen the light and decided that human rights are the way to go and they really like international law and the Geneva Conventions were so important. That’s simply not the point. The point is having an informed constituent, having an informed constituent who’s willing to speak, who’s willing to press their elected officials, having a judicial branch that’s willing to look at the law and not policy, and going from there. And so I think to think that nothing will change would be to accept the president’s premise that because he’s the commander in chief he gets to make all the rules, and it just goes that way. And we don’t believe that.
Scheer: And I’m glad the Supreme Court doesn’t serve at the pleasure of the president because the chief justice and [Associate Justice Samuel] Alito, I’m glad they have their own minds and aren’t like the attorney general. And on that point, are you saying the Supreme Court—? Many people, I don’t think, know what the Supreme Court even does anymore, and you’re saying that with Alito and [Chief Justice John] Roberts, the justices, they are going away from the Roves and Bushes and they’re going more with their jurist minds and less of their political minds?
Musa: I’m not saying that every Supreme Court justice is taking that position, but this Supreme Court that’s currently sitting is the one that considered the Hamdan case. When the decision came down last June, granted, Chief Justice Roberts didn’t sit in on that decision, rightfully so because he actually was on the appeals court that had made—the federal appeals court at the time that made the decision that was appealed to the Supreme Court. But it was a 5-to-3 ruling, so five justices said, “We don’t accept these commissions as they were set up. We think they’re unlawful. We think that the president exceeded his authority. And Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies to these detentions.” And that’s what they said. I know sometimes people say there’s no way this court—they’re too conservative. It was this court. Five justices said so. I know someone tried to say, oh, but that’s so slim. That’s not the point. A ruling is not about how big is your majority; it’s about, do you have a majority? And that’s what the majority of the court said. What will they say next time around? I don’t know. But the simple fact is, that’s what they said this time around. I think it’s a clear indication that there are people who sit on this court who recognize that we have these obligations, that these are important obligations, and that the United States needs to uphold them.
Scheer: Also, historically, the Supreme Court, no matter what political position you are, the law of the land and certainly the Constitution of the United States, are upheld overall. Hopefully this court will help you guys out. Again, thanks for talking to us today.
Scheer: It was great and good, informative. And hopefully ... and what’s your website again, just for the Truthdiggers out there who want to dig with the Amnesty International USA?
Musa: It’s www.amnestyusa.org, and if you want to sign up for a denounce-torture campaign, we’re actually going to be doing a lot of work on this, especially in June, working to restore habeas and end extraordinary renditions, and we’d love it if you joined us.
Scheer: Thank you very much.
Musa: Thank you.
Harris: Jumana Musa, human rights attorney for Amnesty International. You have homework to do, audience, because she’s told us about some things that are just not right in Guantanamo Bay, and public awareness is always king. Be sure to visit the website. One more time, Jumana?
Musa: www.amnestyusa.org. Click on “Shut Down Guantanamo.”
Harris: For Josh Scheer, for Jumana Musa, this is James Harris, and this is Truthdig.
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