Thursday, August 20, 2009

An excellent idea, but unlikely to happen

In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Guénaël Mettraux suggests that we set up an international criminal tribunal for the detainees at Guantánamo.

The Guantánamo detainees pose a similar conundrum [to the situation the Allies faced in 1945] today. Trying these men stateside would necessarily require the compromise of long-cherished principles of American law. Yet continuing to hold them without the prospect of a fair trial or delivering them to undemocratic governments are alternatives not worthy of the Obama administration or of the United States.

America’s own endeavors at Nuremberg offer a way out of this impasse: an international tribunal for detainees. Such a tribunal would allow the Obama administration to finally try these individuals and close down Guantánamo — and it would bring the nation back within the tradition of law and justice that it so forcefully defended six decades ago.

Conservatives will never put up with it, of course: international panel are well and good for acts perpetrated on other people, but not us.

Mr. Mettraux concludes this way:

An international criminal tribunal would not answer all the legal questions surrounding the war on terrorism. But by putting its faith in the law, the Obama administration would send a potent message to both its supporters and its enemies. By giving a fair trial to the Guantánamo detainees, the United States would reassert its core values and demonstrate the supremacy of those values over the evil that has been challenging them.

The chief prosecutor at Nuremberg, Robert H. Jackson, said: “We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our lips as well.” Let us hope that the wisdom of his prophecy has not been lost to those who will decide the fate of the Guantánamo detainees.

And just who was Robert H. Jackson? He was the chief prosecutor at Nuremberg, but he was also a Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1941 to 1954. An appointee of Franklin Roosevelt, he also served as Solicitor General and Attorney General of the United States.

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