by Raymond Schroth SJ
June 13, 2008
The first Guantanamo trial, which featured arraignment just last week and may be derailed by Thursday's Supreme Court rejection of the Bush administration's policy on the denial of habeas corpus to detainees, was already an occasion for shame on many levels. This is particularly true among lawyers, civilian and military, who cared for the honor of their profession. But also, I would hope, for anyone with a sense of human decency - especially a religious person who wants to see Christian principles applied to public life.
Here is a United States Supreme Court with a Roman Catholic majority. Is there any trace of their religious upbringing in their judicial decisions? Anthony Scalia (Xavier High School and Georgetown U.) and Clarence Thomas (Holy Cross) have Jesuit educations?
The trial of the five alleged participants in planning 9/11 was morally poisoned from the beginning: first because much of the evidence had been extracted through torture, and second because the government asked for the death penalty.
Torture extracts not the truth but submission to the torturers. Khalid Mohammed, for one, confessed to 30 crimes, including the murder of Daniel Pearl, which prosecutors know cannot be true. If the trial continues, and if it is to be perceived by the world as just, no evidence extracted under abuse should be admitted. Nor evidence from unnamed sources who cannot be cross-examined. In May the Pentagon, without explanation, dropped charges against Mohammed al-Qahtani, because, according to Slate.com, "what had been done to him would prevent him from ever being put on trial." His interrogatin included sexual humiliation, attack dogs, stress positions, and sleep deprivation.
Meanwhile several military lawyers, representing both the defense and prosecution, have resigned in protest, because they don't believe the procedures will guarantee a just trial or because, as Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for the tribunals, says, the system has "become deeply politicized."
Another prisoner, Omar Khadr, is a 21-year-old Canadian scooped up in Afghanistan and incarcerated when he was 15, accused of killing an American in a battle by throwing an grenade.
If the accused prisoners are guilty, who gains by killing these Muslim fanatics? Certainly there would be no deterrent effect; they pine for martyrdom, and martyr wannabes will follow their example. That executions bring "closure" for victims' relatives is a myth. Taking pleasure in the death of another person can be only a morbid, self-destructive gratification. Most likely President Bush imagines that killing more "bad guys" - men he's called "the worst of the worst" and kept incommunicado, many without any charges against them, for seven years - will boost his image as a leader.
Bush received the court's decision in Rome, where he has been visiting the Pope, with a sulking grump. I hope Pope Benedict, while he and Bush strolled in the Vatican gardens, reminded him that the Vatican has again condemned cluster bombs, which Bush clings to, and consistently opposes torture and the death penalty.
What to do with its 270 detainees if Guantanamo is closed? The Guardian (June 6-12) reports that 17 naval vessels around the world are serving as "floating prisons," holding pens for suspects until they are rendered to secret prisons somewhere else.
And what of the justices who do or do not examine their religious consciences before condemning men to endless prison without charges or appeal? Judge Scalia said the majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a Catholic, "will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed." Justice Roberts regretted that the "public," by which he meant the president, would lose control of foreign policy. Catholics Clarence Thomas and Anthony Alito both signed the two dissents. Thank God for non-Catholics John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.