Friday, September 08, 2006

Bush and Secret Military Tribunals

A Sudden Sense of Urgency
The New York Times | Editorial

Thursday 07 September 2006

Two months before a Congressional election in which voters are expressing serious doubts about the Republicans' handling of national security, President Bush finally has some real terrorists in Guantánamo Bay.

Mr. Bush admitted yesterday that the Central Intelligence Agency has been secretly holding prisoners and said he was transferring 14 to Guantánamo Bay, including some believed to have been behind the 9/11 attacks. He said he was informing the Red Cross about the prisoners, placing them under the Geneva Conventions, and asking that Congress - right now - create military tribunals to try them.

Those are just the right steps. If Guantánamo Bay has any purpose, it is for men like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, considered key players in 9/11. They should go on trial. If convicted, they should be locked up for life.

But Mr. Bush's urgency was phony, driven by the Supreme Court's ruling, not principle. This should all have happened long ago. If the White House had not wanted to place terror suspects beyond the reach of the law, all 14 of these men could have been tried by now, and America's reputation would have been spared some grievous damage. And there would be no need for Congress to rush through legislation if the White House had not stymied all of its attempts to do just that before.

The nation needs laws governing Guantánamo Bay, not just for the 14 new prisoners, but also for many others who have been there for years without due process, and who may have done no wrong.

Last month, for example, The Washington Post wrote about some of the first arrivals at Guantánamo Bay in 2002: six men, born in Algeria but living in Bosnia, accused of plotting to attack the United States Embassy in Sarajevo. Two years after their capture, Bosnian officials exonerated them. Last year, the Bosnian prime minister asked Washington to release them. But The Post said the administration has decided the men will never be returned to Bosnia, only to Algeria, and then only if they are confined or kept under close watch. Even the Algerian government won't go along with that.

Mr. Bush could have prevented this sort of miscarriage of justice if he had not insisted on creating his own system of military tribunals, which the Supreme Court ruled illegal. Even now, the legislation he is proposing to handle Guantánamo prisoners would undermine key principles of justice. It would permit the use of evidence obtained through coercion, along with hearsay evidence, and evidence that is kept secret from the accused. The military's top lawyers have all publicly opposed these provisions.

Mr. Bush also wants to rewrite American law to create a glaring exception to the Geneva Conventions, to give ex post facto approval to abusive interrogation methods, and to bar legal challenges to the new system.

Some of the most influential Republican voices on military affairs, Senators John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, are sponsoring a more sensible bill that would bar the use of coerced testimony and secret evidence. Members of this Congress have a nasty habit of caving in to the White House on national security, and there's a looming election, but it is vital that they stick to their principles this time.


Post a Comment

<< Home