Thursday, December 16, 2004


Infinite jeopardy

Americans who are aware, however vaguely, of their constitutional rights will likely be aware of their right under the Fifth Amendment not to be placed in "double jeopardy" by the legal system. This means, on its face, that you can't be tried twice for the same offense. As with most of our "rights," this right has more holes in it than Swiss cheese. But it is a part of our culture to believe that we have this right, that the right is just, and that any right-thinking country would treat its citizens likewise.

Of course, the right does not extend to foreigners who have been tried on the same offense in a non-U.S. jurisdiction. But since we take ourselves to be the world's model for fairness, a violation of these cultural beliefs can only shock.

Such is the case of Boudella al Hajj. Al Hajj is a Bosnian Muslim seized by the U.S. in January 2002. Where? According to the Washington Post, "on the steps of a Sarajevo court that had found him not guilty of terrorism charges." Picture this: You're walking out of an ordeal, free at last, and the U.S. military, from your own country, whisks you away for indefinite detention, incommunicado—without trial—on the charges for which you've just been freed.

Al-Hajj's case was briefly alluded to in a Post report on cases being brought to a federal judge that have resulted from the post-detention hearings by a military tribunal in Guantánamo.

Al-Hajj's wife Nadja Dizdarevic wrote to the court—

I can't believe these things can happen, that they can come and take your husband away at night and, without reason or evidence, destroy your family, ruin your dreams.

Why? Why are they doing this to us?

If George Bush's government has its way, Nadja Dizdarevic will never find out. In fact, she's lucky that she knows where her husband is—the government had intended to make these prisoners just disappear into the Black Hole of Guantánamo.

If you're from an allied country, you may expect better treatment—

In papers released Thursday, an Australian detainee who faces charges of war crimes asserted that U.S. interrogators repeatedly beat him while he was blindfolded, injected him with drugs against his will and offered him a prostitute1 in exchange for information about his fellow prisoners.

One thing is certain. While George Bush is in office, the citizens of the world risk not only double jeopardy, or even triple jeopardy—they're in infinite jeopardy.


1 Which raises a question. If the Australian had accepted the offer, would the prostitute have been one of Castro's Cubans, brought from off the base? Or would she (or he) have been flown in from the U.S.? Or would one of the soldiers at the base simply have been detailed to the task? [back]

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