Once the United States could be summed up in one majestic image: the Statue of Liberty. But since Sept. 11, the beacon of hope, morality and respect for all people has dissipated into the moral and legal vacuum that is Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
For those of you who do not what Guantanamo Bay is, or more precisely what it isn't, let me give you a quick rundown. It is the place where the Bush administration jails 400 or so "enemy combatants," those captured during the "war on terror."
It is a place where detainees have been stuck for up to five years without a trial or hearing.
It is a place where basic decency under the Geneva Conventions is violated systematically.
It is a place where detainees, even American citizens, are not tried by a jury of their peers, but rather a military tribunal.
It is place where "trials" admit evidence obtained through torture, allow hearsay, and deny defendants the right to even see the charges against them.
Congress, under Republican leadership, passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, denying the rights of detainees to contest the charges against them in federal courts.
Fortunately, a proposed bill would right the utter injustice of a facility that is a disgrace to everything legal and just plain decent. Without being formally accused of a crime, the innocent remain in prison, and the guilty are not brought to justice.
Detainees, no matter what despicable act the U.S. government accuses them of, still deserve the rights America assures to all: the right to a fair trial with a jury of their peers, the right to contact a lawyer without harassment, the exclusion of torture, the exclusion of evidence obtained by means outlawed in the Geneva Conventions, and the right to contest the charges against them.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, is a welcome relief to those of us who can't stand to see another cause celebre for terrorist groups. The bill also needs to include a provision to prevent the practice of extraordinary rendition: when the U.S. government kidnaps a suspect from a sovereign nation and flies the suspect in a CIA plane to a country that allows torture.
Shutting down Guantanamo requires only transferring these detainees to other facilities that house similar "enemy combatants." There, they deserve the right to a fair trial and the right to defend themselves in a court of law, not a court of military officers.
I want to live in an America with the rule of law, not an America with Guantanamo Bay.