Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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U.S. not above the law

If you’re big and powerful enough to get away with it, it’s okay to break the rules.

At least, this seems to be the message the United States is sending to the rest of the world this week through its flagrant disregard for international law at Guantanamo Bay.

Apparently, the United States decided it no longer needs to bother with the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which stipulate proper guidelines for classifying and handling prisoners of war.

The United States is currently holding 158 prisoners from the war in Afghanistan at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The detainees, who come from 25 different countries, are a mixture of Al-Queda henchmen, Taliban members and regular soldiers.

Normally, prisoners in such a situation would automatically be given POW status and treated according to the protocol outlined in the Geneva Conventions–protocol that contains provisions for humane treatment and fair interrogation. This isn’t the case at Guantanamo Bay, where prisoners, some of them seriously wounded, are living under harsh conditions and being interrogated without lawyers.

The United States is employing slippery semantics to justify its actions. The detainees, according to President Bush, aren’t really POWs at all, but “killers,” and therefore exempt from the protection of the law.

The United States further excuses itself by saying that although interrogations outlawed by the Geneva Conventions are taking place, they are humane in nature.

The United States’ blatant disrespect for the law is drawing loads of international criticism. Much of the criticism comes from countries including Britain and France, which are anxious to see their citizens being kept at Camp X-Ray repatriated so they might face trial at home. Such criticism is both easily understandable and well deserved.

The audacity and blatant disregard for law the United States is exhibiting in Guantanamo Bay is astounding.

There’s no question that the Guantanamo Bay prisoners are dangerous, and some of them have vital information about terrorist activities. However, this is no reason to suspend international law. Even if some of the prisoners are terrorists and thus ineligible for POW status, they should not be denied their basic rights. Instead of reacting like a crazed lynch mob, the United States should have complied with the treaties by establishing international tribunals to determine the detainees’ statuses on a case-by-case basis.

Ignoring the law in such a manner is not only completely illegal, but poor policy as well. The situation at Guantanamo Bay sets a sinister precedent for the future. If the United States is able to ignore the law for convenience’s sake, what is to stop other countries from doing the same? No one would want to see U.S. soldiers being denied their rights if they found themselves in a similar situation somewhere down the road.

The arrogance the United States displays at Guantanamo Bay is disturbing, but definitely not surprising. Although the United States has taken it upon itself to be the policer of the world, it regularly holds itself above the law. We don’t give stretching or breaking the law a second thought, keeping it only when it suits us or is convenient. Furthermore, we are remarkably poor at compromise and working with other countries (our cop-out of the Kyoto protocol and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child come to mind).

Such behavior is inexcusable. Just because we’re big and strong enough to get away with being a bully doesn’t make it okay. This is especially important in the post-Sept. 11 world, where the U.S. should be trying to work with other countries, not against them.

It is arrogance and egoism like this that made the United States a target of terrorists in the first place. Don’t mistake me: I’m not saying the United States deserved to be attacked, or that the actions of terrorists like the ones who bombed the World Trade Center and kidnapped journalist Daniel Pearl are justified by the United States’ self-centered attitude. However, the United States does need to realize that its superiority complex and continued disregard for international law have repercussions. Too bad the United States completely missed its first chance to prove itself dedicated to being a true global leader.

Kristin Wieben ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science and French.

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