Rough Justice

3 minute read
Richard Lacayo

James Monroe said it this way: “National honor is national property of the highest value.” You have to wonder what he would have made of Guantánamo. We keep getting reminders–there was another on March 26, with the first conviction of a Guantánamo detainee–that it remains a place where the national honor is in play, where the U.S. image in the eyes of the world is daily up for grabs.

David Hicks is an Australian who was captured in Afghanistan in 2001. It wasn’t until after almost five years of detention at Guantánamo that he was brought to trial before a U.S. military judge. At the end of a tumultuous day, he pleaded guilty to providing material support to a terrorist organization, a charge stemming from time spent in an al-Qaeda training camp.

If he had been held in a more conventional prison and convicted in a more conventional court, it might be easier to offer him before the world as a small but clear victory in the war on terrorism. But in Australia, where Hicks will probably spend his remaining prison time, he has evolved in the minds of many people from a would-be terrorist to a victim of American injustice, so much so that sentiment there in his favor has begun to threaten the re-election of Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard. It may be no surprise when opinion in France turns against the U.S., but in Australia?

Just a day after Hicks was convicted, a case was decided that grew out of American treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan ruled that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld can’t be sued by nine freed prisoners who say they were tortured in U.S. custody. Hogan cited the principle of immunity for government officials. But in his ruling, he also summed up his feeling about the abuses the ex-prisoners claimed: “This is a lamentable case.”

And we also learned recently that almost as soon as Rumsfeld’s successor, Robert Gates, assumed his new job, he started pushing to shut down Guantánamo. It was too tainted in the eyes of the world, he argued, for its verdicts to be accepted. He lost the fight, but it spoke of a shift in attitude in high places. Gates implied what many Americans have suspected for a while–that Guantánamo, too, is a lamentable case, one that does the U.S. more harm than good.

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