Too Important for Electioneering

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 12, 2006 | Go to article overview

Too Important for Electioneering


Byline: Bruce Fein, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

President Bush's maneuver to prosecute 14 "high value" al Qaeda detainees for alleged war crimes before Spanish Inquisitionlike military tribunals would stain justice without benefit to the national security. Congress should amend Mr. Bush's proposed legislation to prohibit secret evidence or the admission of coerced statements unless the interrogator reasonably believed the coercion was legal. Justice is too important for electioneering.

Until last week, the al Qaeda 14, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Abu Zubaydah, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, had been detained in CIA prisons abroad as illegal combatants. The U.S. Supreme Court had sustained the president's indefinite detention authority in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2003) but required that the alleged illegal combatants enjoy an opportunity to challenge the correctness of their designations in proceedings that satisfied due process. In response, Civilian Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) were established at Guantanamo Bay to hear challenges. The Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 entitles detainees to seek judicial review of CSRT decisions in the D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

President Bush's decision to move the al Qaeda 14 from CIA prisons to Guantanamo Bay did not require their prosecution. The 14 can be detained indefinitely even if never charged with war crimes, just as captured German and Japanese soldiers during World War II were detained for the duration though innocent of criminality.

But simply transferring the al Qaeda 14 to meld into the Guantanamo Bay detainee population would do nothing to rescue President Bush's plummeting political popularity and the probable loss of a Republican majority in the House of Representatives next November. Something more fear-inducing was needed.

Mr. Bush thus decided on war crimes prosecutions of the 14 hoping to convince voters he and his fellow Republicans are tougher on terrorists than Democrats. Seeking to reinforce that optic, Mr. Bush also demanded that Congress create military tribunals denuded of a requirement known to every civilized system of justice: that the accused be informed of the prosecution's evidence and be given an opportunity to rebut. Mr. Bush aims to tar opponents as soft on al Qaeda.

Mr. Bush is not the first president to have contaminated justice with partisan politics. Amidst racist hysteria after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the internment of 120,000 loyal Japanese-Americans or permanent resident aliens. By 1944, the Departments of War, Interior, Justice and State uniformly advised Roosevelt that the internments could be ended without impairing the war effort. …

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