Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Defending the Death Penalty

Not me (necessarily). The Bush Administration.

Funny that they feel that need to defend their decision to seek the death penalty against 6 Guantanamo inmates accused of various levels of involvement in the events of 9/11. After all, no international law prevents the US from executing convicts - though there may be an emergent international norm against the death penalty, the US is not bound by the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. So the Bush Administration really doesn't need to bother justifying this.

Besides, the strategy being used - comparing the US military commissions to the Nuremberg tribunals - is going to backfire, because there is a significant difference and a significance similarity that doesn't work in the Bush Administration's favor.

The difference is 60-some years of international jurisprudence and the establishment of the International Criminal Court by multilateral treaty - a court which does not allow for the death penalty, even for the architects of genocide.

The similarity is the lack of due process in the two proceedings (required, by the way, by Common Article 3, Article 1(d) of the Geneva Conventions even for unlawful combatants - the Bush Administration has admitted this article applied to GWOT detainees). At Nuremberg, Nazis were executed for "crimes against humanity" - a concept that did not exist prior to the crimes being committed, so court's legitimacy was undermined by claims of ex-post-facto justice. As for the Guantanamo Six, at least one of them, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, is known to have been tortured by the US government during interrogations, so evidence that could hang him is unlikely to be accepted by advocates of due process.

In other words, invoking Nuremberg was exactly the wrong strategy for the White House. Instead, they should have stuck to the letter of the Geneva Conventions. The conventions provide no immunity from prosecution and even execution for those who engage in political violence without formal combatant status - that is, being incorporated into the legitimate armies of parties to an conflict. The Guantanamo Six do not qualify and therefore the question of whether they can be executed is moot under international law.

It's ironic that the White House would raise this at all then, given its penchant for flouting well-established norms. In this case, the law seems actually to be on the US side. Rather, this would have been a great opportunity to demonstrate our adeherence... complete adherence... to the spirit and letter of the Geneva Conventions. Oh, but wait, there's still that due process / torture thing...

1 comment:

Farnsworth68 said...

Yeah, it's a pretty pesky little roadblock, that due process torture thing... But they'll manage to get around that, too.
Remember, as I personally heard Orrin Hatch say one time, "The death penalty is how we demonstrate our respect for human life."
There really is no way to reason with these people.
Great blog, BTW. I read it regularly. Keep up the good work.

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