Friday, April 29, 2005

U.S. Strongarms Bassiouni out?

Knight-Ridder is reporting that Cherif Bassiouni, formerly serving as a UN human rights investigator in Afghanistan, believes he was pushed out of his position by US officials intent on hiding individuals detained in Afghanistan and a potential transfer of about 200 Guantanamo detainees there.

In essence, Bassiouni believes that the US will try and transfer torture victims before allowing UN inspectors investigate prison conditions. This way, the government can say that it is allowing investigators while simultaneously cleansing these prisons of individuals who presumably would tell UN investigators that they were abused.

The State Department's reaction?

"We came to the conclusion that more than three years after the fall of the Taliban, the situation had evolved," a State Department spokeswoman said. "It was felt...that the special mechanism of the independent expert was no longer needed."

This peculiar response by the State Department left me wondering. First, I am uncertain as to why the fall of the Taliban government should affect a UN investigator assessing US prison conditions in Afghanistan. Second, this argument is exactly on point as to why individuals detained because they were part of the Taliban should be immediately repatriated under the Geneva Conventions.

Gosh, if the situation has changed and Afghanistan is our friend (which I believe) then why are we holding their former soldiers. Notably, these former soldiers, if not caught during the war in Afghanistan are becoming part of the very government that is now a US ally. So now we are supposed to take pride in a ideological belief that the difference between life imprisonment at GTMO and a new Afghan government job is a simple matter of timing?

The government has attempted to preclude an argument over Geneva repatriation by short-circuiting Geneva protections all together. However, the factual landscape continues to evolve in a way in which it is clear that Taliban detainees should be repatriated to Afghanistan. The more the State Department touts democratic development in Afghanistan, the less likely it is that they can argue that Taliban soldiers can be held.

If, as a March 11, 2005 article in the NY Times is correct, that the DOD's "top choice would be to win the war on terrorism and declare an end to it and repatriate everybody," then even the government is operating on a stage where repatriation at the end of hostilities is the desired result. The problem then is that the law is not dictated by the end of the war on terror but the end of hostilities in the relevant theatre of war where each detainee was captured. For example, the DoD wouldn't repatriate a Taliban POW at the end of the Iraq War, or vice versa, because they are different conflicts.

Foreign policy must possess consistency in order to gain efficacy. Inconsistent ideology spurs inconsistent action. There's no remaining logical reason for the government to continue to detain Taliban fighters at Guantanamo.

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