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Judging Bush's Military Tribunals

Britain continues to be America's staunchest ally in the US-led war in Iraq, and Prime Minister Tony Blair remains unwavering in his support. But his government does have a serious quarrel with the Bush administration. The American President's designation of two Britons to be among the first six of 680 prisoners held at the US base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to face a military trial has been condemned across the political spectrum in the United Kingdom.

The British are not alone. Worldwide, the detentions at Guantanamo Bay and President Bush's military tribunals have become symbols of America's readiness to abandon concern for rights in the name of the struggle against terrorism. Indeed, one senses a certain satisfaction in some countries that have been the targets of human rights criticism by the US; now they sense an opportunity to turn the tables.

Whether denunciations of the detentions at Guantanamo and the planned military tribunals are driven by genuine concerns about human rights or by glee at pointing out American hypocrisy, the effect is the same. Because the US is such an outspoken proponent of human rights internationally, its failure to respect rights assumes added significance, contributing to a rising tide of anti-Americanism in much of the world.

The Bush administration has only itself to blame for this state of affairs. The creation of Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo, and President Bush's executive order establishing military commissions to try those held there, aimed to deal with prisoners seized during the war in Afghanistan whom the US considered to be ``unlawful combatants.'' That is, the Bush administration believed that they were al Qaeda members or others who did not fight by the rules of war and thus not entitled to prisoner-of-war status.