Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Hearings Officer and the Grapes

Two months ago, I was in an online argument about the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo. It turned out my disputant was one of the attorneys providing pro bono legal services to one of their number. He was irate about the abuses he had heard about from his client. Two days later, I mentioned the online discussion to an acquaintance of mine who is a hearings officer for Behavioral Health. He was quite testy about the whole subject, noting that because the detainees could not meet privately with attorneys, and in many cases had not had status hearings, that the Bush Administration was “pretty clearly depriving them” of rights. “That’s a severe deprivation of some basic due process.” He was also worried about physical abuse.

Perhaps he’s right, of course. I’m no expert on the Geneva Conventions. My understanding was that lawful combatants and noncombatants have some clearly designated rights, but that unlawful combatants were in no-man’s land legally. But there are obviously other sides to that story, and that’s what everyone’s arguing about.

I bring it up because of that hearings officer’s certainty about what process was due, and disdain that anyone could think otherwise. That certainty is, shall we say ironic in view of his conduct at yesterday’s hearing. Sparing the reader the details, it is necessary only that you know that the patient who had requested the appeal hearing is a small paranoid woman in her mid-forties who is quite bright and has a sharp tongue. This hearing had been continued at her request twice before because she felt it was not being handled properly. She had interrupted the hearing officer angrily on both previous occasions, complaining that he is not a “real judge” and that her rights were being violated and the hearing was illegal.

The hearings officer was defensive and grew snappish. Had one of the line staff on the unit used that tone he would have been subject to mild disciplinary action. The appellant was cut off when she would not accept the first explanation of why the hearing was indeed legal, and while some accommodation had been made for her, much more could have been done.

It is my clinical opinion that however much was done it would not have changed the appeal materially. The patient would have quickly found something new to object to whatever accommodations were made. But it is important to note that a) the hearing officer did treat her rudely, and b) not everything was done that could have been.

Walk a mile in my shoes, eh? The guards at Gitmo endure enormous provocation – beyond what we endure here at an involuntary psych hospital, and that is a high level – and perform at a level of self control that I find almost unimaginable (See again the interview over at Patterico). This particular critic of Gitmo could not endure even rudeness from a middle-aged psychiatric patient without losing his temper and abridging her rights.

He may be absolutely right on the points of law, but he is still a hypocritical, self-righteous bastard.


Anonymous said...

One of the things that has continued to nag at me in the discussions treatment of the detainees at G-Mo is the concept that our constitutional rights should apply to those detainees. The 14th amendment has been used, for better or worse, for a number of things. I reprint the first clause here for the effect:

ll persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Note that it clearly refers to citizens.

Now, you know what my job is. I generally deal (but not always) with people without mental illness, so can make my job easier. But a driver's license is a touchy subject for a lot of people and tempers do flare. Some of us are better at maintaining a professional demeanor during such outbursts and others are not so good at it. We are all human beings. But I heartily agree that one who freely pontificates about abuses in the abstract loses credibility when he/she can't handle some measure of challenge of his/her personal authority. But I guess a "due process" hearing metes out only as much due process as the hearings person is up to that day. Makes one wonder, as does the AVI, how the guards at G-Mo do it day after day . . .

Have a good trip.

bs king said...

14th ammendment not withstanding, the real issue here is the Geneva Conventions. I believe those supercede any particular law of a particular country in these situations, since we chose to say we would abide by them.

Thanks for reproducing that though Dad, the effect was great.

That being said...yes, very easy to criticize when you're not there. We get that a lot in the ER. One of the funniest stories involved a cafeteria worker who refused to serve a nurse any food at 7:45 (they closed at 8) because she had already cleaned up, and wanted to go home on time. Three days later she was up in the ER (with a TOOTHACHE) demanding to be seen IMMEDIATELY because she was an EMPLOYEE. We actually had to physically stop the same nurse from charging over and telling her that we would love to see her right away, but we really wanted to get out on time. That, to me, seems a very downgraded version of what's going on here. Others are always expected to perform their jobs perfectly, whereas we have no issue cutting corners, because hey, we deserve a break today.

Anonymous said...

bs king:

I don't mean to argue, because you always have excellent points, but I disagree with the idea that the Geneva Conventions "supercede" any of our laws. We are a sovereign nation, beholden, in principle, only to ourselves. Even the SCOTUS recognized that - the ruling on the rights of Gitmo detainees specifically stated that, without any other law to guide them, the SCOTUS was ruling based on the Geneva Conventions. They were saying that Congress could pass a law about the detainees that would "override" the SCOTUS interpretation of the Geneva Conventions.

If Congress (more accurately, the Senate) were to choose to remove the US from the framework and treaty of the Geneva Conventions, nobody could do anything about it. The SCOTUS couldn't, and the UN could complain and threaten sanctions, but short of invasion, no other country/organization could do anything about it.

Yes, we chose to abide by them, but we could just as easily choose not to. Don't turn it into a choice between "doing what is right" and American sovereignty. It boils down to: How do WE want to treat these detainees? They are not citizens.

Personally, I think we have held them for too long without doing something about it. We have been procrastinating, ignoring the subject, on both sides of the aisles, and the only groups that bring it up are the ones who are caricatures of what they esteem to be, or once were: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Jimmy Carter, etc. Congress should have created a new court system, if necessary, to handle this new breed of enemy.

And, as far as the examples of hypocrisy y'all brought up:

"Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part."


Anonymous said...

It would be nice if there were 7x24 video shot of every one of them. Then when some mouthpiece complains, we could produce the tapes from the alleged day of the incident for that detainee and see what the real story was.

I do note that they seem to be gaining weight, so complaints of starvation have been thwarted ;->