Tuesday, January 13, 2009

In George W. Bush's Final Press Conference, a Parting Jab at the Elites in Europe

A very interesting question from Monday's press conference with outgoing president George W. Bush:

One of the major objectives that the incoming administration has talked frequently about is restoring America's moral standing in the world. And many of the allies of the new President -- I believe that the President-elect himself has talked about the damage that Gitmo, that harsh interrogation tactics that they consider torture, how going to war in Iraq without a U.N. mandate have damaged America's moral standing in the world. I'm wondering basically what is your reaction to that? Do you think that is that something that the next President needs to worry about?

The still-president responded, "I strongly disagree with the assessment that our moral standing has been damaged." He went on to list Africa, India and China as regions that still cling to a generally positive view of the United States. The problem is with those "elite" Europeans.

I disagree with this assessment that, you know, people view America in a dim light. I just don't agree with that. And I understand that Gitmo has created controversies. But when it came time for those countries that were criticizing America to take some of those -- some of those detainees, they weren't willing to help out.

Well, the Europeans and I are in agreement on this one. The problem with Guantanamo is the problem with the whole War on Terror concept in the first place. Normally how it works, via the 6th Amendment, is that the accused has a right to a speedy public trial in whatever district the crime was committed in. The prisoners at Guantanamo were not picked up in the United States, and plus the United States can't pin any particular crime on the accused. This is preemptive action in work. Logically if you get detained before you commit a crime, there is no evidence against you because there was no crime.

Ordinarily such a situation would mean that the accused detainee would be released back into his own country. And this has happened for American citizens, as well as citizens of most European nations. But many of those detained could possibly face persecution and (more) torture if they were released back to their own countries, such as Yemen. And this matters because it is an international violation of human rights to release anyone to the custody of countries that have committed human rights violations.

So Europe is the one place that could take Guantanamo detainees from the United States without the latter getting accused of human rights violations. This is because Europe has roughly the same detention laws as the United States. But of course, unlike the United States, European nations have realized that a prisoner not charged with a crime has to be released, or else it's a human rights violation.

In addition, the United States insists that the detainees be indicted or put under 24-hour surveillance if they are transferred to other nations. Of course in order to get an indictment, a formal accusation that a person has committed a crime, a crime has to have been committed. And 24-hour surveillance, if you're not actually in prison, can be very costly and likely an abuse of power.

The Bush administration insists that the prisoners who aren't charged with any crime must not be released, neither in the United States nor in any other nation, because they could potentially commit a crime in the future. If Castro or Saddam threw people in prison and claimed that it was because those people could potentially commit a crime in the future, we'd all just chalk it up to the despotic rule of a dictator. Of course we wouldn't accept prisoners of those nations with a stipulation that they must be detained indefinitely.

So it comes as no surprise that England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, etc., don't want our Guantanamo detainees, especially if they had to continue the detainment themselves. But the reason isn't because the Europeans are jerks who criticize America without helping the human rights situation. It's George W. Bush who is the detainment jerk.

It should be noted that with the election of Barack Obama, European nations are now signalling that they would be more open to helping out with America's little torture camp problem. Barack Obama has strongly declared his intention to shut down Guantanamo Bay starting on Day 1 of his presidency, and European countries have answered his call (before he even made a call for it, no less). So maybe in the end it's not a matter of human rights issues but more of a diplomatic plea: "We'd be glad to help you out if you'd stop calling us elitist do-nothings in your press conferences."

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