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US Presses China on Rule of Law Issue, Ignores Own Failures

The concept of blind justice following the rule of law is now "quaint" in the US. (photo: Dave King on Flickr)

Demonstrating once again the damage inflicted on itself by its slide into lawlessness, the United States could only use an Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission to deliver a condemnation of China for not adhering to the rule of law in its handling of a jailed naturalized US citizen. Had the condemnation come from high level authorities at the State Department, the extra level of attention to the issue likely would have brought observations in the world press that the US doesn’t fare so well itself lately on the issue of the rule of law.

A Reuters article from Tuesday morning describes the US condemnation of China:

The United States pressed China again Tuesday to release a U.S. geologist jailed on charges of stealing state secrets, saying his case had not been handled transparently.

Xue Feng, who was born in China and later became a naturalized U.S. citizen, was detained late in 2007 after negotiating the sale of an oil industry database to his employer at the time, Colorado-based consultancy IHS Energy, now known as IHS Inc.

“Our sense has been that the case has not been handled with the kind of transparency that would befit a nation which tells us that the rule of law is paramount in all judicial processes,” said Robert Goldberg, U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission.

Oh, my. Does the US really want global attention to focus on whether “the rule of law is paramount in all judicial processes” in the US? Take, for example, what passes for “debate” on the issue of the proper venue for trying terrorism suspects currently held at Guantanamo. Here is how the Washington Post described the status of those discussions back in March:  . . .

President Obama’s advisers are nearing a recommendation that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, be prosecuted in a military tribunal, administration officials said, a step that would reverse Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s plan to try him in civilian court in New York City.

The president’s advisers feel increasingly hemmed in by bipartisan opposition to a federal trial in New York and demands, mainly from Republicans, that Mohammed and his accused co-conspirators remain under military jurisdiction, officials said. While Obama has favored trying some terrorism suspects in civilian courts as a symbol of U.S. commitment to the rule of law, critics have said military tribunals are the appropriate venue for those accused of attacking the United States.

The chief defense counsel for the Military Commissions at Guantanamo rightly recognized that the “debate” over the trial venue is completely wrong-headed to center only on political considerations rather than being decided by what is called for according to the law:

Marine Col. Jeffrey Colwell, acting chief defense counsel at the Defense Department’s Office of Military Commissions, said it would be a “sad day for the rule of law” if Obama decides not to proceed with a federal trial. “I thought the decision where to put people on trial — whether federal court or military commissions — was based on what was right, not what is politically advantageous,” Colwell said.

So where is the moral standing for the US to lecture China about the rule of law on its handling of a prisoner when the US faces such huge issues of its own? After all, in the case of Xue Feng, there aren’t even allegations of abuse or torture (from the Reuters article):

Goldberg said Xue, who has been allowed consular visits in jail where he is serving an eight-year sentence, was in surprisingly good spirits.

“We believe at this point he is not being mistreated,” Goldberg added.

Contrast that statement with the obvious barrier to the trials of Guantanamo prisoners who have been subjected to torture (from the Washington Post article):

It may be that some in the government want to start from scratch. Justice Department lawyers who were preparing for the civilian trial of Mohammed and his alleged co-conspirators planned to avoid using any evidence obtained through the coercive interrogation of the defendants while they were held in CIA secret prisons. Mohammed is one of three known detainees subjected to waterboarding while in CIA custody.

If Barack Obama had followed through on his campaign promise to return the United States to the rule of law, imagine how different this protest of Xue Feng’s treatment would look. If the US were in the process of prosecuting a former President, Vice President, Secretary of Defense, CIA Director, and various Justice Department officials for instituting a policy of torture, no other evidence of a commitment to the rule of law would be needed. Today, rather than rule of law, the US is under the rule of political whim, and when whim replaces law, moral standing is lost and chaos is sure to follow.

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Jim White

Jim White

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