Judge's Ruling to Halt Tribunals Favors Our Troops Abroad

The Boston Globe, in this editorial, says that Judge James Robertson's decision Monday to halt the miltary tribunal proceedings at Guantanamo should be cheered by our troops serving abroad:

THE Federal district judge in Washington, D.C., who ruled Monday that the Bush administration has violated US and international law in its handling of Afghan war detainees ought to be thanked by members of the US armed forces all over the world. If they are captured by the enemy, their chances of being treated in accord with the Geneva Conventions will be greater if the United States holds itself to that standard.

The ruling was in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who had not been provided his right under the Geneva Convention to a hearing on his prisoner of war status.

US officials had simply declared him and others detained in Afghanistan to be enemy combatants, denying them legal protections that POWs have. Moreover, because the government had not legally stripped Hamdan of POW status, Robertson found that it could not use a military commission to try him for conspiracy to commit war crimes, murder, and terrorism.

The Judge also nixed some of the procedural rules, such as those preventing Hamdam from viewing the classified evidence against him and from confronting the wintesses against him.

The ruling follows upon the Supreme Court decision in June that first established that prisoners in Guantanamo had the right to challenge their detention in federal court. The government hurriedly organized combatant status review panels, which Robertson has now found to fall short of the standards set by the Geneva Conventions. In those panels, more than 300 cases have been reviewed, and only one detainee, a Pakistani, has been freed.

The U.S. did not take such harsh positions in prior conflicts.

To demonstrate the risk that these Guantanamo precedents would pose to US soldiers captured in the future, the judge referred to the case of a US warrant officer detained by a Somali warlord in 1993. Washington asked the warlord to respect the Geneva Conventions in handling the soldier. Robertson, himself a former Navy officer, noted that if the conventions were applied as narrowly as the government has applied them in the case of the Afghan detainees, the US soldier's captors "would not be bound to follow the convention because they were not a `state.' "

Bottom line, says the Globe:

This is what is at stake when the United States flouts US and international law in its handling of detainees. A nation whose armed forces are involved in as many dangerous situations as US forces are should be a stickler, not a scofflaw, when it comes to the Geneva Conventions.

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