Man lobbying for prisoners’ rights
The detention of hundreds of political prisoners by the U.S. government and the denial of their legal rights rivals some of the darkest civil liberties violations in American history, according to a Minneapolis civil rights lawyer.
A New York Times editorial
America’s fight against international law
“There is no mechanism in which these people can establish their innocence and gain their release,” said Joseph Margulies during a speech to University of Toledo law students yesterday on the UT campus.
In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States and the subsequent war on terrorism by the Bush White House that has led to armed conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, 660 men have been detained at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba. An unspecified number of other detainees are being held in U.S. prisons under similar circumstances.
Mr. Margulies, 43, working for the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, represents two Britons and two Australians being held at Guantanamo. Like all prisoners there, they are being held in solitary confinement, are not allowed contact with outsiders, and have not been charged.
He said it has been an unusual case. “I wouldn’t know them if they walked into this room,” said Mr. Margulies, who has asked a federal court in Washington to rule that the prisoners should be granted their legal rights.
From a historical perspective, the action by the Bush administration is not surprising, according to Mr. Margulies.
During the Civil War, President Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus, which led to the arrest of hundreds of civilians who protested the war. During World War I, Congress passed the Sedition and Espionage acts. More than 1,000 people were jailed for speaking out against the war. And midway through World War II, 120,000 Japanese-Americans were forced into prison camps.
“All of these events followed a pattern,” Mr. Margulies said. “Some event triggers a national emergency, either real or imagined. The objective is to restore peacetime democracy that has been shattered by the event.”
The problem, he contends, is that “without exception the executives overshoot and overextend themselves, especially [in areas] related to civil liberties.” Such decisions by political leaders, he said, are “an unpardonable sin.” Though the actions almost always had public support at the time they were carried out, “in time, we [came] to regret it,” he said.
Mr. Margulies noted that everyone jailed under the Sedition and Espionage acts later was pardoned. Government actions against Japanese-Americans during World War II later were universally condemned.