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(DV) Whitney: John Roberts' Role in the Guantanamo Hunger Strike







John Roberts’ Role in the Guantanamo Hunger Strike      
by Mike Whitney
September 12, 2005

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“People will definitely die…. Bobby Sands petitioned the British government to stop the illegitimate internment of Irishmen without trial…. Nobody should believe for one moment that my brothers here have less courage.”

-- Binyam Mohammed, British prisoner at Guantanamo Bay

When Senate hearings convene this week for Supreme Court candidate John Roberts, let’s hope that they focus on the hunger strike taking place at Guantanamo Bay. It was Robert’s ruling in Rumsfeld vs. Hamdan that hastened a massive 200-man hunger strike that is now in its second month and has hospitalized at least 15 inmates. The prisoners are demanding that they be given the opportunity to challenge the terms of their detention in a court of law, a principle that Roberts does not support. He ruled in the Hamdan case that the President was not constrained by international law and that “the Geneva Conventions do not create judicially enforceable rights.”

Roberts ignores the fact that the United States is a signatory of the Geneva Conventions and must comply with its provisions for the humane treatment of prisoners as well as offering prisoners the Convention’s protection “until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal.” Rumsfeld’s handpicked military courts do not meet these requirements, and have been rejected by prominent legal organizations and human rights groups alike.

Let’s be clear -- the 500 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay are innocent. That is not my contention, but the belief of everyone who still accepts the fundamental principle of American jurisprudence, that men are “innocent until proven guilty.” The inmates have been deprived of due process of law, so we must presume that they are innocent. The language invented at the Defense Department -- “terrorist”, “enemy combatant”, “insurgent” -- should not cloud our reasoning or undermine our commitment to fair play. The prisoners should be allowed to defend themselves according to internationally accepted standards of justice.

Roberts does not believe that captives in the war on terror have any rights whatsoever. His ruling in Rumsfeld vs. Hamdan confers absolute authority on the President to imprison suspects indefinitely without any legal process in place to challenge their imprisonment. But, if this is true, than why do we need courts or judges at all? Why not simply resolve these issues by executive fiat?

Roberts’ ruling has earned him an appointment to the Supreme Court; a souvenir for endorsing the supreme powers of the President. But, his ambition comes at a cost. 200 or more victims of his verdict are presently starving themselves to death demanding the right to have their cases heard in court. The scene at Guantanamo has been described as “dire” by defense attorneys for the detainees with gruesome descriptions of prisoners “vomiting blood or collapsing in their cells.” The Defense Department has tried to conceal the details of the hunger strike and has prevented the media and the Red Cross from visiting the prisoners.

Guantanamo needs to be opened up so that we can see the consequences of Roberts’ judicial philosophy. If Roberts is willing to rubberstamp a policy that promotes the cruel and inhuman treatment of prisoners then the public should be aware of it.

Roberts has argued that, “The president’s authority under the laws of our nation to try enemy combatants is a vital part of the global war on terror.”


Roberts should be given every opportunity to defend his theories on justice as long as the sick and emaciated victims of his philosophy are paraded through the Senate Rotunda for everyone to observe.

American justice is an oxymoron. Under Bush, there is neither justice nor a system; just the willful conduct of bullies who act according to the most cynical impulses.  Roberts is the embodiment of the present paradigm: a man whose adult life has been devoted to secret organizations, like the Federalist Society, whose sole purpose is the dismantling of legal protections and civil liberties for the common man. He is the poster boy of the new world order.

The Muslim prisoners who are resisting this regime of lawlessness -- some who have even ripped the feeding tubes from their arms -- are heroes in the truest sense of the word. They have put their own lives on the line for a just cause, demanding that they be treated with the same respect and dignity deserving of every man. Now, they face an agonizing death fighting for the very same principles that are written into the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.   

They’ve earned our admiration, and they have it.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at:

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Other Articles by Mike Whitney

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* "Shoot to Kill": Tony Blair’s First Trophy
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* Guantanamo: the Calculus of Human Misery
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* Genesis of an American Gestapo
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