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Colin Powell: Close Gitmo, Restore Habeas

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Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Colin Powell has clear advice to the Bush Administration and to Congress on the steps that should be taken in light of the dismissal of all pending Military Commissions cases by the military judges presiding in them. From NBC’s Meet the Press, just a few minutes ago:

RUSSERT: Guantanamo. Torture. When John McCain was seeking ways to deal with the issue of torture, you wrote him a letter and said this: “The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.”

POWELL: Right.

RUSSERT: What do you mean?

POWELL: They are. Guantanamo has become a major, a major problem for America’s perception — as it’s seen, the way the world perceives America. And if it was up to me, I would close Guantanamo — not tomorrow, this afternoon. I’d close it. And I’d not let any of those people go. I would simply move them to the United States and put them into our federal legal system. The concern was, well, then they’ll have access to lawyers, then they’ll have access to writs of habeas corpus. So what? Let them. Isn’t that what our system’s all about? And by the way, America, unfortunately, has too many people in jail, all of whom had lawyers and access to writs of habeas corpus. And so we can handle bad people in our system. And so I would get rid of Guantanamo and I’d get rid of the military commissions system, and use established procedures in federal law or in the manual for courts martial. I would do that because it’s more equatable and it’s more understandable in constitutional terms. But I’d also do it because every morning I pick up a paper and some authoritarian figure, some person somewhere, is using Guantanamo to hide their own misdeeds. So essentially we have shaken the belief that the world had in America’s justice system by keeping a place like Guantanamo open and creating things like the military commission. We don’t need it, and it’s causing us far more damage than any good we get for it. But remember what I started this discussion saying, don’t let any of them go. Put them in a different system, a system that is experienced, that knows how to handle people like this.

As I demonstrate here, Edmund Burke, the icon of Anglo-American conservatism, addressed precisely these same issues in his celebrated Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol and expressed views essentially identical to Powell’s. If anything, his criticism of those who would suspend habeas and apply a special regime of law to enemies in war time is far more withering than Powell’s. He called it tyrannical and wicked and openly called upon the law enforcement community and courts to subvert these efforts.

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