Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Sitting on a barbed wire fence

It is apparent to anyone with half a brain that the Bush regime in the USA generally wants to have everything both ways. They control more weapons of mass destruction than any other power on earth, but insist that other countries should not be allowed to acquire or hold such weapons.

They insist that they are fighting a "War on Terror", but refuse to give their captured enemies in that war (many of them kidnapped from third countries in defiance of international law) the internationally recognised status of prisoners of war. Now, facing yet another attempt to gain some legal rights for these unfortunates, the government once again undermines its own case by self-contradiction.

The US Supreme Court will today hear appeals from two detainees in the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp arguing that the 2006 US law removing their habeas corpus rights (following an earlier Supreme Court judgement upholding them) is unconstitutional. To quote the BBC report, the prisoners "say that habeas corpus does extend to Guantanamo Bay because, even though the territory is not under formal US sovereignty, it is under US control", to which "US government lawyers have responded by saying in their brief that the US does not own Guantanamo Bay and therefore the writ of habeas corpus does not run there".

Now pardon me if I'm too dense to understand the subtleties of the argument here, but if the US doesn't own Guantanamo Bay, which is a corner of Cuba that the US clung on to after Castro's Cuban revolution, then it must be either international territory, in which case international law should apply (as it does, for example, to ships outside territorial waters), or it must be Cuban territory held illegally by the USA (since the Cubans certainly didn't lease it to them, unlike say Diego Garcia which the US leased from Britain). There are other types of territory - for example, territories under a UN mandate pending resolution of their status - but Guantanamo Bay is not in any of these categories.

What this means is that the US is effectively arguing that it has no right to Guantanamo Bay, in which case the US prison there cannot be a legal establishment. So what they are saying is that the Guantanamo prisoners have no legal rights because they are being held in an illegal prison in the first place. Or am I missing something?

P.S. In case we forget we are dealing with human beings here, not just legal principles, here are the stories of the two men concerned.

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