We have been following the stories in the international press about alleged desecrations of the Qur’an by soldiers in charge of detainees at Guantanamo Base. What a mess.
We have heard snippets of news about large demonstrations in Jakarta against these alleged incidents. It seems that thousands of students, activists, and other folks have voiced their disapproval of both the alleged Qur’an desecrations as well as the general treatment of detainees. Fortunately, there does not seem to have been any violence as has happened in other parts of the Islamic world. Here’s to hoping that SBY, who is currently visiting with President Bush in Washington, has a good head on his shoulders and can figure out the right things to say to calm tensions in Jakarta. The tensions are bad enough that the US Embassy in Jakarta and the consulate in Surabaya have ceased all services except for emergency visa services for Americans living in the country. There is, as of yet, no word on there being any trouble in Malaysia, although we dare say people aren’t thrilled with the allegations.
As for the allegations themselves, we’re pretty sure that we can’t add anything of substance that someone else already has not already said in the years since Guantanamo Base began housing enemy combatants. We find the current situation ethically repugnant. This is exactly what any high school civics student could have imagined might happen when we separated government operations from public oversight. There is not even a hint of institutionalized public accountability for actions at the base. These allegations may or may not be true (and our assumption is always innocent until proven guilty), but the stupidest thing about the Bush administration’s policies here is that we’ll never know. In house investigations can never be truly free of the suspicion of political pressure, and we don’t think that any government in the world deserves the benefit of the doubt. These enemy combatants require the same assurances of proper treatment that prisoners of war require, and that requires independent monitoring and transparency. Of course, the administration has naively walked right into this issue, and will not be able to extricate itself to any party’s satisfaction without complying to a just system of oversight. This is obviously unlikely. So complaints will continue, and credibility will suffer.
The administration’s lame attempt to rebut the allegations seems not to have helped. Having a policy that the Qur’an is to be treated with utmost respect is essential, yet it is trivially the case that the existence of a policy does not ensure compliance with its guidelines. People around the world are smart enough to figure that out, and the administration comes across as either arrogant or deceitful when dissembling like this.
The American criminal justice system is the envy of the world, and that the US has about the best record of treatment of prisoners of war that you can imagine. That’s what makes us better than our enemies, whomever they may be.