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A Tale of Two Georges


So, we're still waiting on the jury, and the world keeps spinning on its axis . . . 

For a nation founded in opposition to tyranny, we've got a funny way of acting. We started out by criticizing the practices of George the Third, and now George the Forty-Third seems to have adopted them as official policy.

He has affected to render the military independent of, and superior to, the civil power. . . .
He has [given] his assent to [the parliament's] acts of pretended legislation:

  • For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us;
  • For protecting them, by a mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states;  . . .
  • For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury;
  • For transporting us beyond seas, to be tried for pretended offenses; . . .

George the Third did this by placing his generals superior to local colonial governing bodies and officials; for George the Forty-Third, this is done by making the official military of the DOD and the quasi-military of the CIA and other intelligence agencies "off limits" to the courts. Just this past week, the US Court of Appeals in DC upheld the Bush administration's odd claim that US and its military is not bound by the law of habeas corpus outside the US. From the LA Times:

In a 2-1 decision, the judges said the Constitution did not extend the right of habeas corpus to noncitizens held outside the sovereign territory of this country. "Cuba — not the United States — has sovereignty over Guantanamo Bay," Judge A. Raymond Randolph wrote.

Cuba is now responsible for Guantanamo Bay? So does that mean that the Gitmo detainees need to petition Castro for a hearing before a judge to contest their detention? Somehow, I don't think that's what George the Forty-Third or Judge Randolph had in mind.

But back to that other George:

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation. . . .

Here's where George the Forty-Third departs from George the Third. Instead of transporting the large armies of foreign mercenaries into Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, George the Forty-Third sends the local prisoners to other nations "to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny" under the quaint heading "extraordinary rendition."

Human Rights Watch issued a report yesterday entitled "Ghost Prisoner," describing the enforced disappearance of Marwan Jabour by the CIA and others believed to have been taken into American custody. The Washington Post put the story of his two-year odyssey in CIA prisons on page A01, as well as George the Forty-Third's spokesperson's "nothing to see here . . . move along" boilerplate response. Senator Jay Rockefeller IV, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, apparently disagrees with that assessment, as he is including this in his committee's oversight work.

When the State Department conducts its annual round up of human rights abuses, the "disappeared" is a part of the checklist. Historically, El Salvador has come in for particular scrutiny, but we have taken other nations to task repeatedly for "disappearing" their opponents. How tragic, then, that we are guilty of precisely the behavior we have condemned so often – and that we are continuing to practice.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a press release on a treaty banning "disappearances" on February 6, 2007:

A new international treaty outlawing enforced disappearances and upholding the right of victims to know the truth about the circumstances and fate of those disappeared was officially opened for signature at a ceremony in Paris today.

"Far from being a tragic relic of past "dirty wars" this shameful practice still persists in all continents. This treaty closes a glaring gap in international human rights law by making explicit the prohibition on disappearances," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour.

"The task now is to ensure that the new Convention is promptly applied to meet the hopes and the demands for justice of the victims and their families and satisfy their "right to know".

The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 20 December 2006.

Echoing the absolute prohibition on torture, the Convention states that, "No one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance" and highlights that no exceptional circumstances whatsoever may be invoked as a justification for such violation.

Three guesses as to whether we've signed on.

The US State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor describes our country's official stance on human rights as follows:

The protection of fundamental human rights was a foundation stone in the establishment of the United States over 200 years ago. Since then, a central goal of U.S. foreign policy has been the promotion of respect for human rights, as embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United States understands that the existence of human rights helps secure the peace, deter aggression, promote the rule of law, combat crime and corruption, strengthen democracies, and prevent humanitarian crises.

Because the promotion of human rights is an important national interest, the United States seeks to:

    • Hold governments accountable to their obligations under universal human rights norms and international human rights instruments;
    • Promote greater respect for human rights, including freedom from torture, freedom of expression, press freedom, women's rights, children's rights, and the protection of minorities;
    • Promote the rule of law, seek accountability, and change cultures of impunity;
    • Assist efforts to reform and strengthen the institutional capacity of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Commission on Human Rights; and
    • Coordinate human rights activities with important allies, including the EU, and regional organizations.

Accountability . . . Respect . . . Rule of Law . . . Strengthen the UN . . . Coordinate with allies . . . Did this come from the Bush State Department, or did someone forget to update the website when they took office in 2001?

Someone might want to send this over to the White House, as they don't appear to have read it, from what Human Rights Watch has to say. And if Senator Rockefeller is looking for some models in his oversight of extraordinary renditions and secret prisons, he might check out the US Institute of Peace in DC. They maintain a library of reports and information on "Truth Commissions" in various nations that have worked (or are working) on coming to terms with their practices of "disappearances," including Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ghana, Nepal, Peru, Sri Lanka, and Uraguay.

Ghost prisoners in CIA detention or rendered to other nations for "aggressive" interrogation are close cousins to the kinds of things that caused our own revolution. We didn't sink to the level of George the Third — we rose above it.

Why should George the Forty-Third be surprised that Americans would express outrage at this kind of official behavior? We know that as a nation, we are better than this, and have been so from the start.

It's time someone helped him remember.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

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