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“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury”, or so says Amendment V of the U.S. Constitution. But times have changed and apparently the Bill of Rights has along with it.

As an amenity to the War on Terror, the Guantanamo Bay naval base on the island of Cuba has been designated a prison for suspected terrorists. Just south of Florida, this prison is a facility funded by the taxpayer that is free from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts. Over 600 alleged enemy combatants have remained in custody at Guantanamo Bay since September 2001 and since then not a single one of those alleged combatants has been charged with a crime.

In addition, the right to legal representation has been denied along with many other rights guaranteed by the Geneva Convention. This anti-terror strategy has stirred up a frenzy of debates surrounding the ethics and legality of these detentions and has surfaced a poignant question among politicians, lawmakers and citizens alike: How much are we willing sacrifice in the name of keeping our country safe?

In light of the vulnerability of the United States to terrorist attacks on our own soil, the notion of following the due process of law for men willing to commit unthinkable crimes seems quite undeserving. But such arbitrary suspension of rights threatens the fabric of our legal conventions.

The answer of how this controversy affects us may lie in the story of Arkansas native Hady Omar. As originally reported by 60 Minutes and confirmed by the Justice Department, Hady was taken into custody in his own home shortly after September 11 and was held in solitary confinement in a maximum-security prison for 73 days.

He was an Egyptian Muslim who had married an American citizen and obtained a work permit and in addition was awaiting permanent residency status. In private, police accused him of buying a plane ticket in Florida at the same site where hijacker Mohammed Atta purchased his.

Finally, after 73 days of denying accusations and passing lie detector tests, Omar was released on bond. He was charged with overstaying a tourist visa, despite his circumstances.

Not all of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay share a similar story with Omar, though. Some are members of the oppressive Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks. These men will have their day, and rightfully so, but it is imperative that measures be taken to assure that the innocent will be released while the guilty are convicted by the same set of beliefs that they originally attacked.

And if these men in captivity are guilty of the heinous crimes they are not charged with, then let them fall to the mercy of the set of beliefs we so boldly claim to defend, that is, our Constitution. Let us not undermine the very backbone of what many have fought and died to protect.

Deporting our problems to an island 500 miles off the coast of Miami as a way of avoiding guaranteed humane treatment of the accused only lowers us to the level of the criminal. It is time to act as the moral and civilized nation we claim to be and leave ducking and defying the law to those who are cowardly enough to dedicate their lives to attacking the innocent.

I hope I am not the only one frightened by these detainee camps in Cuba. Its very basis conveys a harsh reality that speaks silently, acts secretly, but is more than the first step toward a shock wave that can infringe on our most sacred of beliefs, that is, that we are all free.

Original article published in The Collegiate Times, 2/13/2004

By Brian T. Murphy

Photo from the Vancouverite, 7/13/10

Prisoner's Rights at Guantanamo

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