I’m sure regular readers of this blog (both of them!) are tired of my periodic rants about American torture policy. Well, I’m tired of living in a country with a human rights record that can be compared unfavorably with that of communist China, so we’re even.
I do want to write about something else someday, but when something so sickening, so despicable, so grotesque as the torture of a young, and possibly innocent, child is revealed as a possibility in the United States of America, I can’t help but rant.In a video released by his lawyers, a Canadian child held in Guantanamo bay breaks down and sobs “kill me,” broken by the treatment he has received while in US custody.Â He claims he was tortured, a claim which may or may not be true, but would come as a surprise to no one in George Bush’s America.Â Thoughtless right-wingers who bloviate that his treatment is no doubt better than the treatment our soldiers receive when captured miss three crucial points.
The first is the most obvious.Â As a country we have never judged ourselves by the standards of our enemies.Â ‘Not the worst’ has never been the goal for human-rights in America.Â (Imagine FDR’s response to criticism of his internment policy: “well, we don’t gas them or rape them…”).
The second should also be obvious but is seemingly missed by both sides of the debate.Â The Guantanamo detainees have never enjoyed their day in court.Â If the Bush administration has evidence proving guilt, they ought to be able to convict the Guantanamo detainees in court.Â Their reluctance to do so has to raise questions.Â If the detainees can’t be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt then their very detention is a human-rights abuse of the worst kind.
The third strikes at core American attitudes toward law and justice.Â There is a deep-seeded misunderstanding of childhood in the American justice system.Â In this case we see that while the rest of the world sees child-soldiers as victims we see them as nothing more than common terrorists.Â This is not an isolated perception.Â It took a 2005 proclamation from the Supreme Court to halt the disgustingÂ practice of executing juveniles; prior to the ruling only Nigeria, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq joined us in killing kids – just think for a moment about the barbaric regimes that AREN’T on that list.Â Still today the right pines for the opportunity to wrap a noose around not-yet-full-grown necks.Â While we have made admirable (if centuries-delayed) progress on capital punishment for minors, we still have 2,484 kids serving life-without-parole for crimes committed before their 18th birthday.Â This punishment, like the death penalty, is a violation of the UN Declaration of the Rights of a Child, as treaty we and Somalia are alone in refusing to sign.Â Unlike in executions, here the ol’ USA manages to stand-alone.Â There is not a single offender in the rest of the world serving this draconian sentence.Â Â Admittedly, the entire US justice system is far more vengeful and mean-spirited than that of nearly any comparable country, but our inability to make exceptions for children who in no other situation are judged to be competent decision makers (voting, drinking, the army, medical decisions, etc, etc,) is especially sad.