Canadian Charter Extended to Guantanamo Bay

Canadian Supreme Court Repudiates the Legal Black Hole Paradigm

The Supreme Court of Canada handed down a judgment relating to detainees in Guantanamo Bay on May 23, holding that the one Canadian detained there may rely upon the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to obtain some due process protection from the Canadian government.

Overview

The decision has already been reviewed briefly from the perspective of Canadian constitutional law on the University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall law school blogs, so I will not repeat that process here. But the decision has importance from the perspective of international law, and the relationship between international and constitutional law.

I would suggest that the judgment refutes the arguments, voiced most recently by several scholars at the ASIL conference in April, that there are circumstances in the so-called “war on terror” in general, and the treatment of detainees in particular, in which neither constitutional law or international law (whether human rights or humanitarian law) ought to govern the conduct and procedures of the detaining forces.

The Supreme Court held that it is precisely when the agents of the Canadian government participate in conduct and circumstances that constitute violations of international law, that the application of the Charter will be triggered and its protections available to detainees (or at least Canadian detainees – more on that distinction below).

Background

Omar Khadr was 15 years old when he was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in July, 2002. He was one of the few detainees who has been arraigned and who is actually moving towards a trial before the much-disputed Military Commissions in Guantanamo Bay. He has been charged with murder and with conspiracy to commit other acts of murder and terrorism. The murder charge arises from the death of a U.S. soldier during the skirmish in which he was captured.Read more…

Permanent SDF Deployment Law and Democracy

(Initially published in the Japan Times, May 21, 2008)

The Japanese government wants permanent legal authority to send military forces overseas. Letting it have it would be a mistake for many reasons, but one seldom raised is the impact the move would have on the nature of Japan’s democracy. A law conferring permanent authority to deploy troops would eliminate important institutional checks and balances on the government’s use of the military, causing a further weakening of the separation of powers in Japan.

It would also run counter to the recent trend in other democracies to increase accountability in the process of deciding to use armed force.

As it stands now, the government (meaning the executive branch, the Cabinet) has to have specific legislation passed by the Diet, such as the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law (the ATSML), to obtain the required legal authority to deploy troops outside of Japan. A new law is required each and every time the government wants to dispatch the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), whether for the purpose of U.N. peacekeeping or to provide humanitarian support for collective security operations such as those in Afghanistan. … Read more…

Rule of Law Under Fire in Japan

(Initially published in the Japan Times, May 3, 2008)

The government’s reactions to the Nagoya High Court’s April 17 decision that Japanese operations in Iraq are unconstitutional, raise profoundly disturbing questions about the rule of law and the democratic separation of powers in Japan.

Representatives of the government, and of the military, have made public statements contradicting the findings of the court, rejecting its conclusions, and dismissing the relevance and significance of its constitutional interpretation. The prime minister has stated that the judgment will have absolutely no impact on the government’s continued use of the military in Iraq.

This response by the executive branch of government to a judicial decision in a constitutional democracy is difficult to comprehend. It raises questions about the extent to which the rule of law is respected. It provokes concerns about the continued normative power of the Constitution. It creates serious doubts about the proper distribution of power among the three branches of government within the democratic structure of the state. … Read more…

U.S. Interference in Japanese Constitutional Case

There was a remarkable discovery announced just this week, that documents uncovered in American archives reveal that the U.S. ambassador to Japan in 1959 actively interfered in the judicial process regarding the determination of a fundamental constitutional issue. While the discovery has been widely reported in Japan, the context and significance of the issue deserve to explored in more depth.

The case in question, commonly known as the Sunakawa case, remains a highly important judgment of the Supreme Court, and the discovery that the U.S. government interfered in the process is important, and may have political repercussions in the ongoing constitutional revision debate.

The Telegram

The discovery itself was made by a Japanese historian on U.S. Japanese relations named Niihara Shoji. While doing research at the U.S. National Archives he uncovered a telegram from ambassador Douglas MacArthur II, nephew to the more famous general who was Senior Commander Allied Powers during the occupation of Japan. In the telegram, sent to Washington in April, 1959, ambassador MacArthur recounted his discussions with both foreign minister Fujiyama Aiichiro, and with Supreme Court Chief Justice Tanaka Kotaro, regarding the ruling by the Tokyo District Court in March, 1959, that the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty was unconstitutional, and that the maintenance of U.S. armed forces in Japan was a violation of Article 9 of the Constitution.

The telegram explains that ambassador MacArthur had initially pressed foreign minister Fujiyama to ensure that the government would appeal the decision directly to the Supreme Court, by-passing the more normal procedure of appealing to the Tokyo High Court. According to the telegram, he “stressed importance of GOJ [government of Japan] taking speedy action to rectify ruling by Tokyo District Court”.

It also recounts how he then had private discussions with Chief Justice Tanaka, after the Supreme Court was seized of the case, in which he sought to determine when the Supreme Court would likely hand down its decision. While the telegram is apparently silent on the issue, it is difficult to believe that the ambassador would not have similarly conveyed to the Chief Justice the American view that it was essential to “rectify” the ruling of the court below. … Read more…