Trial: Country vs. Detainees

On April 4th 2012 the Pentagon finally approved the charges brought forth against 5 Guantanamo bay prisoners accused of playing a part in the terrorist attacks that rocked America on September 11th. Amongst these 5 prisoners is Khaled Sheikh Mohammed who admitted during a military hearing to being the ‘mastermind’ behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They are expected to stand trial in a U.S base in Cuba in front of a military Judge in May of this year. If convicted of the charges of murder and terrorism brought forth against them, they may find themselves facing the death penalty.

11 years on and there is ultimately no clear verdict on these men’s fate and the other men like them who are still holed up in Guantanamo Bay. In this lengthy time there have been questions dogging the administration over how to try them, where to try them (civilian or military courts) and when to try them. There have also been countless questions surrounding the legality of detaining them in Guantanamo bay, with promises that Obama had made to close this controversial site down being ultimately scrapped early on in his first term in office due to ‘logistics’. Throughout all this, questions of legality and the breach of Human rights have been paramount in the highly contentious debates about both Guantanamo bay as a compound and its detainees.

But these men, who are accused in partaking in one way or another in the act which single handedly ignited America’s new age of warfare against the ever impending threat of ‘terrorism’, have been given a lengthy sentence in purgatory. A long time some would say, but even longer considering that it only took the U.S administration less than a month to declare its war on Afghanistan. The war on Afghanistan started October 7th 2001 and this was, in the eyes of the administration, ample enough time for them to launch a full-fledged war on a country which had been historically ravaged time and time again by many different foreign forces. From the Brits to the Soviets to the Mongols, everyone it seems had tried and failed to stably secure this land under their military guise. Yet this did not seem to deter the U.S administration in their quest to seek ‘justice’ for the attacks on their soil.

As of April 3rd 2012 there have been 2,853 coalition deaths in Afghanistan with the casualty figures of Afghan civilians in the tens of thousands. Unlike the deaths of coalition forces, the deaths of Afghan civilians are unfortunately not afforded the same prompt and detailed records so the estimates vary depending on which source you rely on. Afghanistan as a state is ravaged with internal conflict, corruption, lawlessness and injustice. Opium production has drastically risen since the war began contrary to the wishes and aims of the U.S. administration. The faux guise of democracy afforded to Hamid Karzai’s government also does not hide the chronic underlying problems facing the government’s structure and base, that it is weak and dysfunctional. One cannot deny that the state Afghanistan is currently in is less than ideal, but some argue nonetheless it is better than what it had before the war. I will not contest this claim but what I will contest is the idea that Afghanistan should have to settle for ‘slightly better than worse’. The reason why Afghanistan is in such a bad state is the simple fact that not enough (or hardly any) time was spent dealing with the logistics of the aftershock of war.

The issue here isn’t that people shouldn’t be given a fair and just trial regardless of how long it takes, but that this same logic of justice and more importantly time, is also afforded to the people whose lives you will ultimately change and affect when you finally decide to ‘drop that bomb’ for whatever cause. When you declare war you are ultimately passing judgment on thousands of people’s lives, be it troops and their families, or Afghan civilians and their livelihoods and lives. The balance we afford to one life over another is ironically dependent on some part on their geographic placement in the world. In our custody and on our soil the ideals of democracy, justice and fair trail are extolled in defense of what, at times, may seem like the indefensible. While the lives of the soldiers and civilians whose fate inextricably lie with the administration’s decisions, seem to be all too easily written off as ‘collateral damage’.

The logistics of war it seems are easier to handle than the logistics of the Guantanamo bay detainees. Wars are waged too easily without a thorough enough thought given to the consequences and aftershocks that it will inevitably bring. Invading and occupying a country is never going to be easy, lest one with as much of a troubled past as that of Afghanistan. Every action has its opposite reaction and consequences are born out of actions. As the U.S. has found in the case of Afghanistan and Iraq, you might have won the battle but the war has clearly not been so easily won.

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