Lipstick on a Pig?
Sep 26, 2008 at 23:21
Tony Waters in Issues, Defending Hamdan, Guantanamo, trial, legitimacy, Tony Waters

Hi Brian:

Thanks for writing an engaging and interesting account of your involvement in the Hamdan trial. I too was pleased, and surprised about the verdict. I also agree that it provides some indication that at least the US officer corps can maintain a level of impartiality despite the interest of the civilians in the Defense Department for manipulating the process. The verdict has caused me to wonder even more about the views of the officer corps regarding Iraq, the War on Terror, and the longer term implications these views will have for military morale. In this respect, I agree with you that the verdict is a vindication of sorts for the officers concerned. But for the military justice system in general? I think just the opposite.

To borrow a recent metaphor, the Hamdan verdict is like putting lipstick on a pig. A pig is still a pig, and the military courts established in Guantanamo are still illegitimate in the eyes of the world, and ineffectual in both vindicating the innocent, and identifying the guilty for punishment. In this context, I doubt that the Hamdan verdict will by itself begin the process of rebuilding America’s reputation as a protector of human rights, or the principles of equality before the law.

The broader actions of maintaining Guantanamo system speak louder than the one odd verdict. Hundreds of others are still in Guantanamo and other secret prisons, and the United States is still not extending basic protections under the US Constitution, Geneva Conventions, or even natural law. The bottom line in this case of course is Hamdan himself. Hamdan himself, as you note is still in prison with no release date.

In short, the Hamdan verdict may well be a vindication of the officers on the jury. But vindication for the US military justice system in general? Or Hamdan? I think not. The stain in the case of Hamdan is made even deeper by the fact that ultimately, the verdict is irrelevant to Hamdan himself who remains in prison without hope of release. A court which cannot protect those it judges is no court at all.

Tony Waters

Professor of Sociology

California State University, Chico

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