Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Some very good news to report. American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling have been released from custody in North Korea and are now back home in the United States, reuniting with there families this very moment.
A very short while ago, 38 hours or so, the two were taken together to a room thinking the were finally going to be sent to a hard labor camp which they had been sentenced to 12 years. Instead, they found ex-President Bill Clinton.
"Oh no! They got you to?" Euna was rummered to have said.
"What?" President Clinton asked.
"You'd think they would treat a President of the United States better than this..."
"No, no. I'm here to get you home."
And he did, flying them out of the country on a private plane which arrived here in LA this morning after 140 days in custody. Very good news.
Apparently President Clinton was able to affect this release through diplomatic channels and a brief visit to the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong il, who issued a special pardon. Hopefully this episode will lead to better relations between North Korea and the United States, if only the North Koreans would stop trying to take over the world with their friends the Mongolians.
This story even caught the attention of my otherwise current event challenged, but lovely case manager, Erin, who I caught listening to a BBC report of the release in her office.
"You knew of this earlier, and you didn't tell me?" she asked, clearly outraged. I had no idea she had even heard of their arrest, or she had an interest in the story. Amazing. Perhaps as she is herself a traveler of the world she felt a certain kinship with the two women, who seemed to have wandered across the border from China into North Korea, their sole crime.
Unfortunately, as far as I can tell Private Bowe Bergdahl is still in the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Joshua Fattal are being held in Iran after they too wandered into that country from Iraq. The circumstances surrounding the capture Private Bergdahl are unclear, but the three hikers in Iraq were warned that the Iranian border was close and ill defined, and still went. Hopes for their release are particularly troublesome as, like North Korea, we have no direct diplomatic relations, and the United States and other western countries are currently seeking new sanctions against Iran in order to thwart that countries nuclear ambitions. At the same time Iran is facing unprecedented domestic difficulties due to the mass protests of its recent Presidential election, which its leadership is blaming the US and Britain for encouraging.
I see little hope at all for gaining the release of Private Bergdahl from the Taliban as he is basically a prisoner of war, and see no reason at all for their letting him go. And I doubt very much that the Taliban observe and maintain the articles of the Geneva Convention regarding the treatment of prisoners. Why should they? We haven't followed them either! We still have hundreds of afghan and Iraqi prisoners in Guantanamo Bay who are not being treated as prisoners of war, and being held without charge or being allowed access to the American legal system.
That's the problem when a country chooses to ignore a treaty it ratified 60 years ago which calls for the humane treatment of soldiers and civilians in a time of war. The other side doesn't have to either.
Thank you President Bush.
We've labeled these prisoners as "Enemy Combatants," which somehow magically makes them ineligible to the protections of the Geneva Convention. We've specifically maintained that they are not prisoners of war. And they are not civilians, for they are protected by the convention as well. They're "Enemy Combatants," which means... nothing, absolutely nothing. People in their own countries fighting an invading force. Some may have indeed had connections to Al Queda, and those responsible for the attack on 9-11, but not all (there are clear indications that some of these prisoners didn't do anything at all), even if they did they should still be treated as human beings, something even our first President, George Washington, thought was important.
"Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to Complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren…. Provide everything necessary for them on the road," he wrote in 1777.
It is a national disgrace that the previous administration in its ignorance abandoned these principals, and the examples of Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and Blackwater are the defining events in our current military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Perhaps George W. Bush should travel to Afghanistan as a special envoy in order to get Private Bergdahl released. I'm sure the Taliban would love to see him.

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