GUANTANAMO BAY AND THE PROBLEM OF FORGIVENESS
The June, 12, 2008 Supreme Court ruling gave Guantanamo detainees the right to a hearing within a federal court of law. It also raised the issue of forgiveness, justice, and mercy and how to view these.
The Supreme Court on June 12, 2008 invalidated a 2006 law which stripped Guantanamo Bay inmates of the right to file 'habeas corpus' petitions in U.S. courts. The court's majority opinion (5-4) in a rebuke to the Bush administration and Congress, held that inmates at Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay are protected by the Constitution and may seek release in federal court.
Our view of the treatment of Guantanamo detainees and the attitude we hold toward those who wish to do us harm, rests on an inner balance that each of us carries concerning justice and mercy. This balance, which also applies to those who have committed crimes and may be incarcerated elsewhere, is of Divine origin, and contains two currents of Divine will – that which meets out justice along the lines of reciprocity, namely, "what ye sow ye shall reap;" and that which distributes mercy along the lines of "forgive them, Father, they know not what they do."
The balance between the desire for justice and the desire for mercy determines, in large measure, what we will think of the Supreme Court ruling and of similar rulings that pertain to the incarcerated or to those awaiting justice within our criminal justice system.
Both justice and mercy must exist within a society of law, yet one that cares about human rights. This is not only true because such a balance is the way of preserving order and harmony within such a society, but also because the social matrix in which we live - the criminal and the non-criminal alike - is meant to reflect a Divine prototype which brings to bear upon our view of human action, a higher consciousness of what human beings are, and are meant to be.
Justice is necessary within any stable society to insure the rights of all and to prevent those who would trespass against these rights from doing so. It is a necessary deterrent, establishing a barrier which says about certain behaviors: this cannot be allowed. Justice makes necessary whatever arrangements are deemed appropriate to contain behavior that is harmful to others, and to prevent such behavior from occurring in the future.
Mercy, on the other hand, is rooted in the understanding that even criminals are souls, and as such have certain inalienable rights bequeathed to them because of their essential humanity, not because of their actions. These rights derive from the common essence that we share with others, and cannot be suspended on the basis of behavior because 'behavior' and 'essence' are two different things. Mercy contains within itself the 'principle of forgiveness',
Whereas justice is based on reciprocity, mercy is based on the need to separate the person from the action, and to accord to that person dignity, selfhood, and the right to be held as innocent until proven guilty. Mercy derives from the capacity to see all human beings as souls, guided by lower instincts in cases where there is a violation of the rights of others, but, nevertheless, still more than any individual behavior.
The Supreme Court ruling of June, 2008, shifts the balance of judgment regarding Guantanamo detainees from one that is more heavily weighted in the direction of strict justice, toward one that retains a greater balance with the current of mercy. This allows for the maintenance of individual legal rights for detainees, irrespective of their past actions. It also reaffirms the principle of American civil versus military jurisdiction, namely, that despite the fact that such detainees are not U.S. citizens, they exist within the authority and convention of the U.S. legal system and are therefore subject to the laws and regulations derived from the Constitution. Such laws apply to the handling of all criminal cases.
The Supreme Court decision is a hard one to grasp for some who may find it difficult to show mercy to those who have caused death and disruption to countless lives, and who, in the present, may go so far as to declare that they wish to continue doing so. Such declarations, especially, create the 'problem of forgiveness' for a great many people.
Forgiveness, to be real, must rest on the principle "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." But when individuals declare that they know what they are doing and would keep doing it if they had a chance, it is difficult to say that they "know not what they do." The 'problem of forgiveness' therefore resides in this question: Under what conditions shall those who have committed crimes be forgiven and shall mercy be shown?
The answer to this question must rest, first, on an understanding that forgiveness applies to the person, not to the action they commit. An unrepentant convicted felon may be dangerous in an ongoing way and therefore need to remain in custody with future potential actions curtailed. However, treatment of the person, as opposed to the action, is a different matter.
The 'problem of forgiveness' ultimately has two answers, the answer of the human heart and the answer of the Divine heart. The human heart that is wounded or that has suffered real loss often does not want to forgive those who have been the agents of such loss, even when they are repentant. The Divine heart, on the other hand, says even about those who are unrepentant – "they know not what they do." It seeks to hold a circle of love around the soul-essence of each one, no matter what they have done. This heart understands that souls who are separated from the light of truth and from their own hearts can grow up to feel hardened and cut off from their essential humanity. This may make of them criminals on the outer level, but on the inner level, it makes of them souls who have lost their way. Pure justice might, according to certain perspectives, legitimize the deprivation of legal and human rights as a fit act of retribution. Yet, justice balanced with mercy would support the Supreme Court decision and the light that it carries, for this light has not only returned to the detainees the right to be heard in a court of law, but has also reaffirmed our relationship to the Divine prototype of justice balanced with mercy, upon which a true democratic society must stand.
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