Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.
This is another example where America’s “War On Terror” has allowed us to forget the basic principles of the society we hold so dear. The idea of a trial by our peers has been burned into our brains as Americans, and I can’t think of any culture for which it was a basic building block of its identity the way it has been for us. Yet in our fear and rage we have agreed to let “enemy combatants” (a term defined so loosely in this “war” as to be rendered meaningless) be tried by a military tribunal in relative secret. I sometimes think the terrorists really did win with one cruel stroke ten and a half years ago when they were able to expose our values for the feeble hypocrisies that they are.
It should go without saying that the government, whatever form it takes, can never be trusted to hold a trial in secret. Whether a criminal trial, a civil one, or a matter of judicial review, the public should always be able to scrutinize the decisions of our laws arbiters. Decisions by judges (or magistrates or whatever they are called in their homelands) and the arguments supporting them should be a matter of record, as should any and all evidence supporting those arguments. No one should ever have to worry that their fate, whether it is their freedom or their call to redress grievances, is decided behind closed doors.
When justice is shrouded in a veil of secrecy the state can accuse whoever of whatever and achieve the verdict they want without question. Secret tribunals, even moderately secret ones, are evidence of tyranny, of a collapse of democratic values and at the very least harbingers of bad times to come. It is why all of us, regardless of our politics, should be against the treatment of the detainees in the “war on terror.” If we do not speak out against this now, how long before your neighbors start disappearing, convicted of crimes you have no idea whether or not you are committing yourself? How long before you start checking your conversation for any evidence you might be giving the state, evidence no one else will be able to review? How long before we make the dream of the last two hundred years a lie?