Thursday, February 28, 2008

McCain and Guantanamo Bay

The recent announcement that Senator McCain may not be allowed to run for President of the United States has numerous repercussions, some of them devastating to the Bush prisoner policy. There are only two possible outcomes should anyone challenge the legitimacy of the McCain right to run; he is either allowed to run because the base where he was born is considered US Territory, or he is out of the race.

In a nutshell, he was not born on US soil. That fact is indisputable, he was born in Panama What is less clear is what the exact interpretation of the word natural born citizen in the Constitution actually means: Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution, entitled the President, means s/he has to be born in the U.S., meaning the 50 States (and not, possibly, D.C.)

No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption o f this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

The definition hinges on natural born of course. But for the purpose of this article, that is not the issue, what is the issue is that should this subject come up to any court in the United States, the territory of Panama and US bases overseas will come under very tight scrutiny. If McCain is allowed to run because contrary to the strict interpretation of the Constitution, the US base on which he was born is deemed to be US territory for the purpose of his Presidential bid, then, by golly, it remains US territory for the purpose of enforcing US criminal laws.

If it is decided that Mr. McCain having been born on a US base in Panama, and therefore is qualified to run for President, then any person presently incarcerated on any US base anywhere in the world, should come under the protection of the US court system. I can think of a number of US bases that would not relish being under the civilizing protection of our system. Places like Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where up to 1300 people have been randomly pulled off the streets and dumped to the tender mercies of waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other non-tortuous information-gathering techniques.

Should these prisoners suddenly have access to our court system, because Mr. McCain wants to be President and needs his birthplace to be recognized as US territory, then there will be a long hard look cast upon our flawed military justice system. The United States frowns upon information submitted in court gathered as a result of torture. They frown upon six years of incarceration without trial, access to attorneys, or any semblance of due process. They frown, as does the rest of the civilized world, on suspending habeas corpus and not allowing access to one’s accusers or evidence. Our country not only frowns on this high handed method of dispensing justice, they also may frown on other aspects of what we have done to our prisoners. And frowning judges, irritated voters and angry overseas families are not a good basis to challenge McCain’s right to run.

The polite way to handle this would be to compensate the victims of the Bush parody of justice, send them home and never ever speak about it again. But I believe that we will go the other way, just as we have gone the wrong way on the war. We will persist in our criminal attempt at justice, and to do that we will have to tell Mr. McCain that we regret, but your birthplace has denied you the birthright to become president.

And since Mr. McCain has been an ardent supporter of our need to go to war, to interrogate forcefully prisoners and support the rule of Guantanamo Bay, then that is the obvious definition of hoisted by his own petard.

Let the fun begin.