The Obama administration is fooling itself if it thinks the arguments against military tribunals have won the day.
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But there is a message in Reid’s “your Lord” and “my Lord” formulation. For Reid and al Qaeda, they are waging a religious war against America and the West. Such wars brook no compromise. Nor do they need specific actions of America — Reid’s citations are delusional — to justify them; our mere existence suffices.
As for trials improving America’s image, prior trials neither protected us on September 11, 2001, nor against terrorist acts committed before. In fact, America and Europe have been putting terrorists on trial for nearly forty years. Yet terror continued, and still continues.
In his 2001 Senate hearing remarks Senator Leahy refuted what has become a misremembered past in which everyone stood together after 9/11, realizing that America was at war. As early as in the debate over the USA Patriot Act, which an a fortnight after 9/11, Senator Leahy, plus others such as Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, vigorously challenged Bush administration policies as endangering civil liberties. The storied national unity captured when 535 members of Congress sang “God Bless America” the afternoon of 9/11 lasted a matter of days.
The rest of President Obama’s term will offer an empirical test of the wisdom of choosing to try bombers like Reid in civilian rather than military court, and of subordinating the gathering of actionable intelligence from detainees to prosecuting them as criminals. The arguments pro and con were perfectly opposed in the 2003 exchange between an eloquent judge and a fanatical defendant.
The Reid case resulted in lifetime incarceration. But we did not get whatever intelligence Reid might have provided, either. And pursuing some cases in civilian court makes it harder to argue for military trials in others. Our legal system looks backward, to specific facts establishing guilt for specific wrongful acts committed. Intelligence looks forward, to possible future harm.
President Obama’s decision to try the Christmas bomber will deprive us of usable actionable intelligence or, if a quick plea deal is reached, force us to pay a negotiated price for information, in the form of a more lenient sentence. It is an odd calculus that forfeits the chance to get information upon first capture, when a detainee is most vulnerable and his knowledge fresh, in favor of getting it later, paid for when what if offered is less valuable. We are letting terrorists use our legal system as a weapon against us. We will now pay for information we could have had for free.
Putting intelligence gathering over punishing criminal acts was a Bush hallmark, though resisted fiercely by Congressional and court opposition. Putting Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and his fellow 9/11 conspirators on trial in federal court anywhere, let alone in New York City, was unthinkable. Not so for Team Obama.
The moving show of unity on the steps of Capitol Hill was real, but sharply limited in scope: it supported the proposition that something be done about the terror attacks and those who launched them. But what should be done, and how to do so were subjects on which full agreement was rarely reached. The fissure runs not purely along party lines, but nonetheless most of those favoring a law enforcement approach are Democrats, and most favoring a war approach are Republican. Divisions of this intensity and magnitude, dating back to the war’s infancy, are not ended by persuasive argument. They are ended when one or more catalytic events take place that transform the political landscape.
In the seven years, four months, nine days that followed September 11, 2001 America was not successfully attacked from abroad. Time will tell if the Obama years match the Bush record. Should they do so, then the law enforcement model will prevail. Should America get hit again from overseas, the law enforcement model will be discredited, and the war model will regain currency in Washington.
Which model prevails will strongly influence future elections, those ever being determined, in the famous quip of English Prime Minster Harold Macmillan to a young reporter, by “events, dear boy, events.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?