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Stop the militarization of justice!

May 10, 2011

Photo: Shane T. McCoy

Ever since the Supreme Military Council came to power in Egypt, I have been gravely concerned about the ever-increasing militarization of the Egyptian society. The brutalization of the justice and law enforcement system is one of the most dangerous aspects of this worrying trend.

However, this post is not about Egypt. Neither is it about what’s going on in Syria or Libya. This post is about the ongoing efforts to militarize law enforcement and justice in the glorious US of A.

It is not entirely fair to compare a functioning democracy like USA to military-run Egypt. However, at the time of writing, there are strong and ongoing efforts to militarize the American law enforcement and justice systems. If these efforts are successful, the differences between the American way and that of the current Egyptian regime will diminish quite a bit.

While former vice president Dick Cheney is using the killing of the world’s most wanted terrorist as an argument for reinstating torture, Congress is considering legislation that would compromise the American justice system and potentially hamper the investigation and prevention of terrorism.

According to Human Rights First, the bill, known as H.R. 968 or The Detainee Security Act would :

  • Give the President unfettered authority to go to war in Iran, Indonesia, and elsewhere to fight terrorists;
  • Require local law enforcement and the FBI to turn over to military custody any terror suspects, including American citizens, captured in the United States without trial and;
  • Bar both federal court prosecution of prisoners held at Guantanamo and repatriation of innocent Guantanamo prisoner unless ordered by a court to transfer them.

While these measures are no doubt meant to give the President new and powerful tools for fighting terrorism, the result will be the exact opposite. As Human Rights First puts it:

«This bill threatens to undermine national security by uprooting established counterterrorism tools and supplanting them with dangerous, untested, and overly-militarized procedures.»

Less justice for all

Militarization is certainly not the way to go if you actually want to see justice done and terrorists convicted. Guantanamo military commissions do not only have a notoriously poor record of dispensing justice, they also lack legitimacy even among many military lawyers. And while the US criminal justice system has successfully tried and convicted 400 terrorist suspects since 9/11, the military commissions have only convicted 6.

A triple victory for terrorists

Militarizing the justice and law enforcement sectors as proposed in the Detainee Security Act will give terrorists everywhere a triple victory.

First of all, these measures will hamper both the investigation of terrorism and the justice system. In all probability, this means fewer – not more – terrorists being caught and convicted.

Second, militarizing society in this way will be exactly what the terrorists want: Solid proof that they have indeed succeeded in influencing American domestic politics and creating a climate of fear.

Third, giving the President unfettered authority to go to war, turning law enforcement and justice over to the military and barring the release of innocent prisoners are all important steps away from the very institution the terrorists are so forcefully attacking: the liberal democracy.

Self-evident truths?

You cannot conquer terrorism by adopting the values and standards of terrorists. And building an ever more authoritarian society is no way of protecting the freedom or safety of American citizens. I hope that a majority of American congressmen and -women hold these truths to be self-evident. But hope is not enough. Therefore, Human Rights First calls on American citizens to write their representatives, urging them to oppose this misguided bill.

While not an American citizen myself, I wholeheartedly support this call. Please let Congress know that you cannot trade freedom for security, and that creating a climate of fear is no way to fight terror. To live in the land of the free, you have to be just a little bit brave.

Photo: Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Shane T. McCoy, US Navy

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