Thursday, June 12, 2008

Boumediene v. Bush: U.S. Supreme Court Declares that Enemy POWs have Due Process Rights--What Would Have Happened to Sergeant York?

On October 8, 1918, Corporal Alvin York of the U.S. Army single-handedly faced off against a German machine gun unit that had pinned down his 328th Infantry Regiment, mowing down American soldiers, including 9 of the 17 men in York's Company. Armed only with his rifle, and under constant fire from the German unit, the Tennessee sharpshooter inflicted mounting casualties on the German unit until it surrendered. He had personally captured 132 German soldiers, a feat for which he won the Medal of Honor, the French Legion of Honor, and the French Croix de Guerre, among other decorations, in addition to a promotion, which is why he is known to history as Sergeant York.

However, all that occurred before today's decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, holding that prisoners of war held in Guantanomo Bay Prison have due process rights. If that decision had occurred prior to October 8, 1918, things might have turned out differently for Sergeant York....

York: Corporal York, reporting as ordered, sir.

JAG Colonel: At ease, Corporal. Do you know why you were called into headquarters?

York: Is it about awarding me a medal, sir?

JAG Colonel: The medal ceremony is on hold for the time being, York. Those German prisoners you captured hired civilian attorneys, and they're raising some questions about the whole incident.

York: What kind of questions, sir?

JAG Colonel: Well, York, for example, when you captured those men, did you give them a Miranda warning?

York: A what?

JAG Colonel: You know, a Miranda warning, telling them that they had a right to remain silent, that anything they say could be used against them, that they had a right to legal counsel, and so on.

York: No sir, I just told them to lay down their weapons and put their hands on their heads.

JAG Colonel: I was afraid of that. Tell me, York, did you mention that they had a right to a habeus corpus proceeding, to determine whether they were enemy combatants?

York: Sir, I don't even know what a habeus corpus proceeding is. All I knew is that they were shooting down the men in my company, and I had to stop them.

JAG Colonel: Corporal, that sort of impulsive reaction is exactly the kind of conduct that gives our police, I mean, our soldiers a bad name. I am afraid that those prisoners are going to walk. York, for the time being, you are confined to barracks. I am sorry to tell you that you probably are going to face court martial for violating the due process rights of those German prisoners.

York: Excuse me, sir, but am I in big trouble?

JAG Colonel: I wouldn't sugar-coat it for you, Corporal York. You're probably going to Fort Leavenworth. But don't worry, at least you have habeus corpus.


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