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"A Shield for the Prez, but not for the Press"

By       Message Jayne Lyn Stahl       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   No comments

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With the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air, the Washington Post report, last week, got drowned out, namely that an arcane piece of legislation, the War Crimes Act of 1996, passed by another former mostly majority Republican Congress, and not his morning cup of Starbucks, is now giving Attorney-General "Big Al" Gonzales the jitters as administration lawyers are working overtime to devise ways to revise the law so that military brass, and troops are given immunity from prosecution. The War Crimes Act criminalizes violations of the Geneva Conventions, and raises the possibility of exercizing the death penalty if detainees die in custody.

The Attorney-General's primary concern, with respect to potential war crimes charges, is to figure out a way to "shield" his president, and all American military personnel, using the 2002 presidential order which the Supreme Court declared illegal a few weeks ago. To circumvent the court ruling, as well as the War Crimes Act, administration lawyers are seeking to empower the unitary executive, and the United States, by reinterpreting this paradigm of international law in ways that best suit this president's errant foreign policy. So, in effect, new legislation is currently being drafted which will tweak definiition of torture, and war crimes, as well as protections traditionally afforded to prisoners of war in such a way that will ensure exclusion from criminal liability by any member of this administration.

Consider, for a moment, the irony in this administration's objective to protect those who have violated international law, outsourced torture, and muted the murder (asymmetrical or otherwise) of those confined in jails in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and secret cells around the world while, at the same time, repudiating efforts for a federal shield law to protect journalists from prosecution for refusing to divulge confidential sources. What kind of government protects war criminals, and imprisons those who don't buckle to the pressure to rat out their sources?

Arlen Specter currently has a bill, "The Freedom of Information Act," before Congress which would make demanding that journalists turn over their records, and deny confidentiality to their sources, a last resort, insisting that the courts exhaust all other options before demanding that reporters volate their oath of confidentiality. American Journalism Review reported yesterday that "antagonism toward the media on Capitol Hill is rising," and compromising passage of Specter's bill. So, in essence, the message this government is sending to its people, the international community, and future generations is that it will shield, and protect, its president, and military officers, from the possibility of prosecution for war crimes, even if it means reinventing the Geneva Accord to suit its own ends, but will not shield, and protect, its journalists, writers, and thinkers from having to be accountable to the court, and federal government, or face incarceration. What monstrous absurdity to protect those whose actions, in the battlefield, constitute "degrading and inhumane punishment" and, at the same time, neutralize a free press in the name of national security. In these dangerous times, inertia can only be seen as, and is, in the best sense of the word, actionable.

 

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Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.

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