Honor Spain’s demand

Since U.S. legislators seem unwilling to stop President George W. Bush’s authorization of military courts, other nations have been forced to take it upon themselves to not-so-gently admonish our president. Last week, Spanish law enforcement agents detained eight men suspected of helping plan and execute the Sept. 11 attacks, and four other suspects now sit in a German prison, awaiting judgement.

But what should be a triumph in the U.S. war on terror is quickly turning into an international headache because of Bush’s politics. Spain, a member of the European Union, refused to turn the suspects over to U.S. Justice Department officials without a guarantee that they will not be tried by a military tribunal or be subjected to the death penalty. And since one of the European Union’s membership requirements is national disavowal of executing prisoners, Germany and others might soon follow suit.

To complicate matters further, Spain’s decision is concurrent with what the United States has done and would still do under similar circumstances. By capturing the suspects, Spain became responsible for them. Though not Spanish citizens, they are in Spanish custody, and their just treatment is now Spain’s concern. If someone in the care of the U.S. government was accused of a capital crime in Iraq, a nation where the term “justice system” ought to be considered an oxymoron, U.S. politicians would balk at the idea of playing Pontius Pilate. Unfortunately, many nations view parts of our justice system with the same level of disdain.

Moreover, the authorization of military courts and Attorney General John Ashcroft’s recent anti-terrorism escapades lend credence to their contempt. The United States loses considerable clout when the man charged with advocating for justice advocates instead for mass anonymous detentions and Orwellian levels of surveillance. Alarm bells are beginning to sound in other nations around the world and if Americans continue to ignore them, we will be in for a long, lonely war. What’s more, if Spain and others continue to refuse to hand over suspected terrorists, will the president have to decide they are no longer “with us” but, by default, “with the terrorists?”

That we cannot afford to let this happen is ancillary. What’s most important is that we should not let this happen. Justice and State Department officials should agree to Spain’s conditions not because of the European Union’s insistence, but because it is the right thing to do. Our “Beacon of Freedom,” as Bush put it, has shed its light for 200 years and has changed the world. Now it’s being reflected back at us.

Give these men their day in court. Then, if proven guilty, give them their lifetime in a cage.