Guantanamo Bay detainees story holds a few lessons in law for the average man on the street, anywhere. This is not about terrorism, 9/11, or who these men are. It’s about the legal process and lessons we can learn about how the law works, how the politicians can try to create invalid laws to serve a political purpose, and exist as if it were law until challenged and overturned. You need to understand what this idea means to you.
Your basic rights override the illegal and immoral attempts to eliminate basic legal rights by a misguided, overzealous or corrupt government.
For literally thousands of years the ideas of freedom, government, rights and law have been in development and testing. Every common law country, without exception, has developed basic standards of law that apply the use and abuses of power by governments against their citizens because…
throughout history the greatest threat to the safety, security, peace and prosperity of people anywhere has been their own governments.
The majority of “real law” is written to protect the citizen from their government. Constitutions and Bills of Rights exist to provide a clear fence of law to protect citizens from the inevitable power hungry corruption that creeps into free societies’ governing bodies.
A great example is what has happened recently with Guantanamo detainees initially being treated as having zero rights. Firstly, the most basic right of facing the accuser in a court of law and having that accuser (the US government in this case) provide sufficient legal evidence to justify holding them prisoner. This minimal due process is what a habeas hearing is.
The US government made claims for years that Guantanamo detainees had no right to this first and most fundamental right of protection from government abuse. A documentary by the National Geographic channel (“Inside Guantanamo”) documents the efforts by lawyers volunteering to fight this legal claim by the US government and the story holds powerful legal clues for us all.
Inside Guantanamo legal summary:
- People captured and moved to US prison “offshore” in an attempt to limit access to US courts and to be held indefinitely, without any legal rights.
- Volunteer US lawyers step up to seek basic legal proof of right to hold these people in prison through petitions of habeas corpus.
- US government says they have no such right and case goes to US Supreme court.
- Supreme Court says “they must get a habeas hearing”.
- US government writes Executive Order # denying habeas hearing.
- Volunteer US lawyers challenge Executive Order.
- Supreme Court says “they must get a habeas hearing” a second time, Executive Order in invalid.
- US government passes law through Congress denying habeas hearing.
- Volunteer US lawyers challenge new “law”.
- Supreme Court says “they must get a habeas hearing” a third time, new “law” is invalid.
- Habeas hearings begin.
- 72% of detainees are found to be held with insufficient or no evidence of the alleged threat or alleged crimes and are ordered released. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/05/26/94878/judge-orders-yemeni-detainee-released.html
The good news for all of us is: ANY executive order, presidential policy or “law” passed by Congress or any other legislative body MUST:
- be in alignment with well established legal principles
- can be challenged
- if found lacking, is thrown out.
This process of challenging any policy, executive order or law is available always and only occasionally is it tested. The big stumbling block is usually the legal cost and the legal complexity hurdles put in front of legitimate challenges.
In the 2004 case Rasul v. Bush, the court ruled that Guantanamo detainees enjoyed a statutory right to challenge their detention through a habeas corpus petition.
In a follow-up 2008 case called Boumediene v. Bush, the Supreme Court ruled the Guantanamo detainees’ right to file habeas challenges was rooted in the Constitution.
You can fight city hall and beyond. True,it’s not a fair fight, it takes time, energy, money and stress. Lets all hope that there are people willing to stand and fight when any type of injustice rears its head, or else it will escalate. Sadly, that is the history and nature of governments worldwide.
There is an old saying “people get the government they deserve”. Are you worthy of a better government? Do you stand and object when you see or experience injustice? We each play a role and collectively we make a difference with our individual actions, big and small, in our everyday lives.
To learn more about what you can do daily to strengthen the access to basic rights that tend to be trampled too often, become a free member to learn more.