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John Roberts' role in the Guantanamo Hunger-strike

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John Roberts' role in the Guantanamo Hunger-Strike by Mike Whitney

"People will definitely die"Bobby Sands petitioned the British government to stop the illegitimate internment of Irishmen without trial"..Nobody should believe for one moment that my brothers here have less courage." Binyam Mohammed, British prisoner at Guantanamo Bay

When Senate hearings convene this week for Supreme Court candidate, John Roberts, let's hope that they focus on the hunger strike taking place at Guantanamo Bay. It was Robert's ruling in Rumsfeld vs. Hamdan that ensured that the massive 200 man hunger strike would go forward; hospitalizing at least 15 inmates and leaving countless others bed-ridden. The prisoners are demanding that they be given the opportunity to challenge the terms of their custody in a court of law; a principle that Robert's does not support. He ruled in the Hamdan case that the president was not constrained by international law and that "the Geneva Conventions do not create judicially enforceable rights."
Roberts ignores the fact that the United States is a signatory of the Geneva Conventions and must comply with its provisions for the humane treatment of prisoners as well as offering prisoners the Convention's protection "until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal." Rumsfeld's hand-picked military courts do not meet these requirements, and have been rejected by prominent legal organizations and human rights groups alike.
The 500 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay are innocent. That is not my contention, but the belief of everyone who still accepts the fundamental principle of American jurisprudence, that men are "innocent until proven guilty". The inmates have been deprived of due-process of law, so we must presume that they are innocent. The language invented at the Defense Dept; "terrorist", "enemy combatant" "insurgent", should not cloud our reasoning or undermine our commitment to fair play. The prisoners should be allowed to defend themselves according to internationally accepted standards of justice.
Roberts does not believe that captives in the war on terror have any rights whatsoever. His ruling in Rumsfeld vs. Hamdan confers absolute authority on the President to imprison suspects indefinitely without any legal process in place to dispute their imprisonment. But, if this is true, than why do we need courts or judges at all? Why not simply resolve these issues by executive fiat?

Robert's ruling has earned him an appointment to the Supreme Court; a souvenir for endorsing the supreme powers of the president. But, his ambition comes at a cost. 200 or more victims of his verdict are presently starving themselves to death demanding the right to have their cases heard in court. The scene at Guantanamo has been described as "dire" by defense attorneys for the detainees with gruesome descriptions of prisoners "vomiting blood or collapsing in their cells". The Defense Dept. has tried to conceal the details of the hunger-strike and has prevented the media and the Red Cross from visiting the prisoners.

Guantanamo needs to be opened up so that we can see the consequences of Robert's judicial philosophy. If Robert's is willing to rubber-stamp a policy that promotes the cruel and inhuman treatment of prisoners then the public should be aware of it.
Roberts has argued that, "The president's authority under the laws of our nation to try enemy combatants is a vital part of the global war on terror."
Roberts should be given every opportunity to defend his theories on justice as long as the sick and emaciated victims of his philosophy are paraded through the Senate Rotunda for everyone to observe.

American justice is an oxymoron. Under Bush, there is neither justice nor mercy; just the willful conduct of bullies acting on the most cynical impulses. Roberts is the embodiment of the present paradigm; a man whose involvement in secretive right-wing organizations, like the Federalist Society, suggests a flagrant contempt for social justice, civil liberties, and human rights. His ruling in the Handam case demonstrates that he is willing to elevate the powers of the president over the Constitution, statutes of Congress, and long-standing treaties ratified by the Senate. His appointment to the high court would signal a further erosion of the basic legal safeguards that protect the common man.

The Muslim prisoners who are defying this lawless-regime; some who have even ripped the feeding tubes from their arms; follow in a long tradition of resistance to injustice. They have put their own lives on the line for a laudable cause; demanding that they be treated with the same respect and dignity deserving of every man. They now face an agonizing death fighting for the very principles that are written into the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Perhaps, the Senate should keep that in mind while they review Roberts' qualifications for the Supreme Court.
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Mike is a freelance writer living in Washington state.

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