It seems to me that the United States has a knack for repeating history, especially when it comes to restricting rights from the citizens who rightfully deserve them.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which allowed the Army to intern more than 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans indefinitely without a trial, and without knowing what they were charged with.
After World War II officially ended, we began the Cold War with Russia. In 1954, Congress enacted the Communist Control Act. "Red Menace" hysteria quickly devoured the country, causing the government to enact restrictions on free expression and free association, to create emergency detention plans for suspected "communists," to back legislative investigations designed to punish by exposure and to keep public and private blacklists of those who had been "exposed."
Now that World War II is over and we've "saved" the country from the Japanese, the Germans and the Italians, and now that the Cold War is over and we've "saved" the country from the communists, shouldn't we be safe? Unfortunately, the answer is no. As probably every person in the world knows by now, the Twin Towers were destroyed by two hijacked planes flown by serial bombers on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, killing 2,300-plus people, including rescue workers and counting those killed when another plane flew into the Pentagon.
So now we are on high alert for a suspect just as broad as the men, women and children of Japanese ancestry (not one of whom was proved to be a spy), or all the accused communists. We are looking for the terrorists, in what our government is now calling the "war on terrorism," and that is where Guantanamo Bay comes into the picture. In our "war on terrorism," we feel obligated to detain more than 600 "enemy combatants" indefinitely without a trial, and without knowing what they are charged with.
The "enemy combatants" are masterfully detained. Since the "enemy combatants" are being held on soil rented to the United States, the Constitution should apply, particularly the Fifth and Sixth amendments, which provide citizens and those being held on U.S. soil with due process of law. Unfortunately, it apparently does not. The Geneva Conventions, giving rights to prisoners of war does not apply, either, because the "enemy combatants" do not meet POW criteria (example, they are not associated with a certain country).
We can be thankful that the Supreme Court has decided to step in. In two very crucial decisions in 2004 on the range of the president's wartime powers, The Supreme Court debunked the claim by the Bush administration that it could hold "enemy combatants" on American soil without giving them a proper trial. Because Guantanamo Bay is under U.S. control, and thus appropriately within the jurisdiction of U.S. courts, whether U.S. citizens or not, the detainees will retain their rights to at least a legal hearing.
"The president's constitutional powers, even when supported by Congress in wartime, do not include the authority to close the doors to an independent review of the legality of locking people up," said Fred Barbash of The Washington Post, summarizing the decisions made by the judges during the June 18 detainee hearings.
Now it is two years later, and not much has been done to put the estimated 500 to 600 detainees on trial for the charges, or lack thereof, that they are accused of. I hope we will clean up our act soon.
The Golden Rule about treating others the way you wish to be treated has been passed down through generations for a reason; it works.
Nicola Castle-Bauer is an eighth-grade student at Seattle Girls' School.
© 2006 Seattle Post-Intelligencer