These themes of displaced hearts and pirates/privateers on the empire’s margins in Dead Man’s Chest not only echo a similar constellation of themes in Howl’s Moving Castle two years earlier, but furthermore anticipate quite precisely a similar constellation of issues in the Supreme Court’s recent Hamdan v. Rumsfelddecision regarding the status of the Guantánamo Bay detainees, together with its ensuring political fall-out.
Released on June 29th, four days after Dead Man’s Chest’s world premier in Disneyland, Justice Stevens’ 5-3 majority opinion in Hamdan holds that the Guantánamo captives are subject to the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which guarantees that all captives be prosecuted only by a “regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.” Therefore, the Court ruled that the “military commissions” ordered by President Bush in 2001 to try the captives were unconstitutional.
Consequently, on July 7th, the same day as the US nation-wide release of Dead Man’s Chest, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England sent a memo to all defense officials instructing them that “The Supreme Court has determined that Common Article 2 to the Geneva Concessions of 1949 applies as a matter of law to the conflict with Al Qaeda.” Then, four days later, on July 11th, the White House itself issued a statement explicitly reversing part of Bush’s infamous Feb. 7th executive order claiming that “None of the provisions of Geneva apply to our conflict with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan or elsewhere throughout the world.” In the July 11th reversal, the White House announced that, “As a result of the Supreme Court decision, that portion of the order [the portion claiming that Article 3 of the Geneva Convention did not apply to Al Qaeda or Taliban detainees] no longer applies.”
What is at stake in this unusual reversal of Bush administration policy? Ever since 2001, the Bush administration has attempted to justify its “war on terror” by claiming that its opponents are “enemy combatants,” and therefore not legally subject to any of the national or international protections put in place to safeguard the rights of citizens or foreign soldiers. In effect, therefore, the terrorists are treated as pirates, situated on the margins (or outside) the conventional legal structure.