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Military Tribunals and You
By Cindy Sheehan
I have just returned from five days in Egypt. To me, visiting foreign countries is so enlightening as an American who grew up as parochial and nationalistic as the next. However, since my son was killed in Iraq, I have had a crash course in foreign "relations" and cultures that came with a too steep price.
Ironically, I was in Egypt because 40 members of the Muslim Brotherhood are being tried in military tribunals. Trying civilians in a military tribunal is against every law one can name (except in the US where we have the Military Commissions Act that contradicts international law and our own Constitution). While I was in Egypt to stand in solidarity with the families of the accused, I heard on the BBC about six men being tried at Guantanamo for the crime against humanity that occurred here on 9-11.
I turned on the TV in my motel room just as a military officer was reading the charges against the six detainees and for a brief moment my heart skipped a beat with joy. I mistakenly believed that the officer was reading charges against BushCo: "killing civilians; destroying civilian property and committing acts of terrorism." My happiness that someone-anyone in our nation was taking his oath to "protect and defend our Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic" seriously was short-lived, though, as the pictures of the six accused flashed on the screen.
Although the case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, et al and the 40 members of the Muslim Brotherhood could not be more different, there are also some similarities. We all know that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is accused of being the "mastermind of 9-11" (hey, wasn't that Osama bin Laden before it was Saddam Hussein?), however very few Americans know about the case of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Of course, when some people hear the term "Muslim Brotherhood" they are automatically going to be translating that into "terrorist." These are the same people who get their "news" from Fox and believe that almost 5 million "terrorists" have been killed wounded or displaced in Iraq. These people could not be more wrong about the people of Iraq or the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). According to a scholarly article in Foreign Affairs (March/April 2007), the MB "reject global Jihad while embracing elections and other features of democracy." The MB is a moderate Islamist group that is the largest and most influential in the world. The MB promotes change through the ballot box, non-violent protest and charity. As a woman, I may not like that the men (always nicely garbed in Western suits) wipe their hands off on their coats after they shake my hand, but they are in no way terrorists and are often targeted by radical Islamist groups that do not agree with the MB's moderate positions.
It seems that the "crime" that the MB has committed in Egypt is winning too many seats in Parliament (as Independents as the MB is an outlawed organization in Egypt) and in coalition could have been an effective opposition voice to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who has been a puppet of American Imperialists since 1981. I heard many citizens in his country from cab drivers to tour guides derisively (and quietly) refer to Mubarak as "President for Life." Anyway, in an early morning raid over one year ago, 40 members of the MB were rounded up in tactics that reminded me of stories that my Iraqi friends have recounted: yelling soldiers bursting into their homes wearing riot gear and brandishing terrifying weapons; frightening women and children and hauling off the breadwinner to be swallowed by the depths of a prison in moves calculated to instill terror and suppress dissent.
After four civilian courts exonerated the accused, Mubarak had the prisoners transferred to a military prison and given a kangaroo court trial. The families are expecting a pre-determined guilty verdict that could carry strict sentences. And of course, George Bush, who is a paragon of virtue and respects "human rights and human dignity" (BBC interview, Feb 15th) has harshly condemned Mubarak and has threatened to withhold some American largesse (Egypt is second only to Israel in US aid) due to the gross violations of international law and human rights, right? Well, not exactly. While Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others, has condemned the Egyptian government for this travesty, BushCo has been oddly silent.
Of course, although George can say that he has the "moral high ground" (BBC, again), of course the US is one of the international leaders in detaining people without due process and has committed water torture and other inhumane practices in the Middle East and in our own backyard in Guantanamo.
While I was in Guantanamo, Cuba and Cairo, Egypt advocating for human rights, I dared not make any judgment of an individual detainee's guilt or innocence. Although the MB 40 have been acquitted four times, I cannot presume to judge the "evidence" that I haven't seen, anyway. And although the confessions of the six that will be on trial for 9-11 were garnered through torture, I of course, cannot judge their guilt or innocence, because I have not seen (nor will see) the evidence against them. This is the inherent problem of military tribunals: they are neither transparent nor fair and there is almost always a foregone verdict. This secrecy is not fair to the victims either who deserve to know the "truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," and rarely receive anything resembling "the truth."
How do these military tribunals in Egypt and Guantanamo affect us here in the US? Americans always receive fair and equal treatment under the law, right? Wrong! Madam Justice's fabled scales are heavily weighted to benefit the wealthy or the established ruling class. Ask any person of color or poor citizen here how the American justice system works for them. There is no place for secrecy or suppression of dissent in any free, open or democratic society. In allowing these military tribunals to continue the very cornerstone of human rights is being shattered.
One does not have to be clever or have a particularly vivid imagination to fear an even harsher police state in America where any of us can be rounded up, tortured, and tried for opposing the government. Detention centers are already being built.
Besides, for argument's sake, even if these military tribunals have absolutely no implication here in America, humans are being profoundly hurt by the policies of our allied governments that are dancing the "Totalitarian Two-step" and as MLK, Jr wrote from the Birmingham Jail:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.