By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
When the Allies brought leaders of the Third Reich to account, they held the trials in Nuremberg, Germany. When they tried members of Japan’s general staff, the venue was Tokyo. But, as everyone knows, al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners are being shipped not to Kabul, not to the Hague, not even to Pelican Bay or Leavenworth — but to the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo, Cuba. It is here that they’ll be interrogated and, probably, face trial — not at the hands of international jurists, but at the say-so of American military officers. The choice of Cuba seems a little, well, recherché in a Papillonsort of way, although in these heady times, when our country has entered a rococo period of imperial whim, we could pretty much hold the trials in the pope’s bedroom.
Location concerns aside, the Afghan roundups raise another question, since America considers its detainees not prisoners of war but, instead, “unlawful combatants” — which, according to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, means our hands will not be tied by that old Geneva Convention thing. Now, obviously, al Qaeda members, who wore no uniforms with insignia, would not be considered captured soldiers, but why not the Afghan Talibs? For that matter, are we saying that merely trying to repel an American invasion constitutes a war crime? Does this mean that only American forces are permitted to wage war? Or does it imply something else, namely, that the administration doesn’t consider the Afghanistan dustup really a war after all, but, as Molly Ivins has called it, a simple police action masquerading as a war?
“Secretary Rumsfeld is not the one to determine who is a POW and who is not protected by the Geneva Convention,” Human Rights Watch legal adviser James Ross told the Weekly. “The convention says that people captured during war are presumed to be prisoners of war unless otherwise determined by a competent tribunal. And that’s not just in the Geneva Convention, it’s something the U.S. military signed onto in 1997.”
Ross also noted that even though the U.S. never recognized the Taliban government, it is bound by the Geneva Convention to treat its soldiers as prisoners of war and that even certain al Qaeda members might be entitled to POW status.
Why should Americans even care what happens to men who presumably didn’t think twice about putting bullets into the backs of the heads of their own prisoners?
“It’s not a matter of idealism,” answered Ross. “Our military recognizes that how it treats other POWs will affect how our own soldiers will be treated in the future when they are captured by other countries. That’s why it has taken these issues seriously in the past.”
A few other questions remain. What of the 14-year-old Talib who allegedly shot dead Green Beret Sergeant Nathan Chapman? Is his action (shooting a uniformed invader) considered an act of war? An act of terror? An act of murder? Would he, in the manner pioneered by this country, be tried as an adult and possibly executed once he turns 21? Of course, since he has escaped his captors, talk of a trial for him is moot for now. But this in turn raises a new question: Will the fugitive 14-year-old now be the focus of John Walsh’s TV show, America’s Most Wanted?
SIGNS OF THE TIMES
The Staples Center ice rink covered with tiny promotional Chevrolet cushions (and a smattering of teddy bears) during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships because flower bouquets have been banned since September 11 . . . LAX men’s-room stalls etched with scenes of Osama bin Laden blowing a figure labeled “U.S. Marine.”
READ MY COLD, BLUE LIPS
Now that George W. Bush has announced that a tax raise will be enacted over his “dead body,” the question arises: Does this mean that any proposal for such an increase will be considered a death threat against the president — or even an act of terrorism? In a perhaps-related story, the country is breathing a little easier with the announcement that the pretzel that brought down the president last weekend was not of a “weaponized”-grade variety as first feared.
Too, all the “lost weekend” and “off the wagon” scuttlebutt was quelled once the pretzel was produced for the press. (Eyebrows had earlier been raised when the president mentioned that he regained consciousness before halftime of a football playoff match he was watching on TV — even though his blackout had begun during the seventh game of the World Series.)
Still, the Weeklyhas learned that Bush’s personal security team is taking a closer look at Laura Bush’s slow response time as her husband battled the pretzel. (She claims to have been “in another room” while he lay choking.) While no one at this point is yet using words like “black widow” or “Mrs. Woodrow Wilson,” they are recalling press reports about the first lady’s obsessive penchant for leaving pretzels out for the president. As recently as late November, Newsweek’s Martha Brant reported:
Mrs. Bush, however . . . ordered a basket of pretzels. She’d pop one in her mouth and then nudge the basket down to the other end of the table or over to her husband. There we were in the Air Force One conference room with a war going on passing around the pretzels. At one point, a pretzel went AWOL on the president and he started coughing. Mrs. Bush was just beginning to answer a question when she looked over at her husband, who had his hands clasped at his ribcage. “He’s giving himself the Heimlich maneuver,” she said, breaking into laughter.