Saturday, April 24, 2004

Bush's Efforts to Redefine Sovereignty

Black's Law Dictionary defines sovereignty as follows:
(1) Supreme dominion, authority, or rule.
(2) The supreme political authority of an independent state.
(3) The state itself.

I am deeply troubled that on at least two instances, the Bush administration is misusing that term for political purposes. First, it maintains that although the United States has "complete jurisdiction and control" over Guantanamo Bay and retains the property for as long as it likes, Cuba retains "ultimate sovereignty" because a 1903 lease and a corresponding treaty between Cuba and the United States says so. But "sovereignty" used in that way simply has no meaning. Cuba has no legal authority over individuals at the base and cannot terminate the lease without the consent of the United States. And the lease restricts the use of the land for "coaling and naval stations only, and for no other purpose," but quite clearly we have been using the land for other purposes for some time (including as storage for Haitian refugees before using it as a prison camp) but Cuba cannot terminate the lease despite the United States' failure to comply with its provisions. Apparently, the only right that Cuba retains is to get the land back if the United States ever abandons it.

Second, the United States claims that it is transferring sovereignty to Iraq on June 30, but really it is not transferring "absolute political authority" or anything remotely close to it. According to this WP article, Marc Grossman, the Under-Secretary of State for political affairs, recently stated that the caretaker government to whom "sovereignty" will be transferred will have no law-making authority, and the United States military wil continue to exercise final authority over all troops stationed there, as well as the Iraqi army, police, and security forces. What, then, does sovereignty mean in that context? Mr. Grossman explains taht "in many, many, many other parts of Iraqi life, there will be a very important Iraqi face on an Iraqi government." (NYT and LAT also provide similar reports). An "Iraqi face" does not equal sovereignty, plain and simple.

The problem is more than a semantic one. It reflects a fundamental precept of American foreign policy. Specifically, the United States refuses to cede one inch of its own power to an international governing body because doing so would jeopardize American sovereignty, but when it comes to exerting authority over others, the U.S. strips all functional meaning from that term. That duality surely does not go unnoticed by the rest of the world, and compromises our standing and integrity. And in the context of Guantanamo Bay, it tears at the very fabric of our government. When our own government plays fast and loose with the concept of sovereignty, "we, the people" are at grave risk of losing the power that the Constitution grants to us.

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