I have friends who are furious at the Supreme Court ruling that prisoners at Guantanamo have rights. We’ve come a long way from Matt Dillon facing down a television lynch mob. “These men are gonna get a fair trial.”
The decision had a lot of sub-provisions, one referring back to a previous ruling that declared jurisdiction over land leased from Cuba, another that military tribunals set up by the President and over which he has control are not fair forums for determining final guilt. Boy, my friends are angry!!
The idea seems to be that there are those who should not have rights. For example, those who are clearly guilty of the most horrible crimes, crimes for which they are not repentant, crimes which they would repeat if they could.
Habeas Corpus does seem kind of foreign, maybe even alien: A Latin phrase meaning a technicality to be given to terrorists: the intent being to let the guilty go free to kill again. These are enemy combatants, right? Why give rights to those who want to destroy us and our freedoms?
Those who object bring up factors often not considered by the lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key crowd. What about those who are innocent? Some of those imprisoned were rounded up on the flimsiest of evidence. Some just happened to be walking in neighborhoods where bombings were perpetuated. One Canadian citizen was 15 years old when arrested and has grown into adulthood while in custody. He has been insisting on his innocence all along. He has become a celebrated cause in Canada.
Such arguments are understandable but miss the real point. The lesson of those westerns we watched as youngsters was clear enough. Nobody gets punished without a fair trial. The background in those days was unstated but was not a technicality. Every accused person has the right to say “You’ve got the wrong guy.” If you are arrested for a traffic violation, if you are Newt Gingrich guilty of corruption in book sale advances, if you are a rapist or murderer, if you are innocent, if you are guilty and everyone knows in their heart you done it. Anyone and everyone gets to say “It wasn’t me.”
My President says administrative tribunals originally set up to screen out the obviously innocent is enough. The Supreme Court says no. Basic rights, like that of knowing the evidence against you, are needed to attempt a claim of innocence. And even the guilty have the right to make that claim.
I stand with Matt Dillon and the Supreme Court. Allow each one to claim innocence. Make sure they have a fair trial. Then lock them up forever.
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