Last weekend, I had the unfortunate pleasure of watching Robert Redford's latest political quixotic diatribe, this one veiled as a historic epic about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Story is as follows -- Lincoln is assassinated, John Wilkes Booth is killed, co-conspirators are captured, one conspirator is a woman who receives the death penalty but should be set free because a military tribunal was used. What could've been an intriguing and insightful look at an event that forever changed America, Redford uses this opportunity as a not-too-subtle jibe against military tribunals.
The issue of military tribunals surfaced again last year as the Obama administration decreed that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM) -- the al Qaeda mastermind behind 9/11 -- be tried in a NYC public court as opposed to a military tribunal. This sparked uproar among NYC residents directly affected by the 9/11 attacks and other concerned legal officials since KSM was not a U.S. citizen, did not have the same rights as one, and should therefore be tried as an enemy combatant in a military tribunal. In addition, the publicity a public trial receives would assuredly provide aid and comfort to al Qaeda as KSM would have a public forum to list his grievances against the United States and no doubt embolden the enemy around the world.
The current debate about military tribunals started after the U.S. military needed to hold al Qaeda enemy combatants from on and off the battlefield, primarily from Afghanistan and Iraq. Many combatants were transferred to the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (Gitmo) where they were interrogated to extract intelligence and to determine a proper course of judicial action. The controversies surrounding the use of tribunals began after the infamous Abu Ghraib pictures surfaced and issues of "torture" and prisoner treatment became a part of the War on Terror debate.
So what exactly is a military tribunal? According to the U.S. Department of Defense, military tribunals or commissions are used to "try alien unlawful enemy combatants engaged in hostilities against the United States for violations of the law of war." Military tribunals are part of the military justice system used primarily for non-U.S. citizens during times of war. Like our criminal or civil court system, there is a judge, jury, a lawyer representing both prosecution and defense, but the trial is not open to the public. While more discreet in nature, our military tribunals are certainly a far cry from what Taliban or al Qaeda leaders would offer our captured soldiers.
The purpose of the tribunals is to provide swift justice during military conflicts and to also keep sensitive military intelligence out of the public eye, if determined it would harm troops in the battlefield or threaten the ongoing military operation. Before President George W. Bush used them, FDR had used them in WWII, Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, and even George Washington used them during the Revolutionary War. Each president understood there was a necessity for such a court system as no president wanted to jeopardize the ongoing military operation or harm troops on the battlefield.
If this is the case, why all the hullabaloo over tribunals for people like KSM -- someone who obviously has important intelligence and would affect an ongoing military operation? Ignoring history, Democrats have forgotten or have purposely chosen to ignore precedent from previous presidents, including their standard-bearer FDR. For purposes of political expedience they used this issue in their arsenal of attack on President Bush trying to paint him as a war-mongerer who championed the Patriot Act, Terrorist Surveillance Program, and Gitmo itself.
Ironically, it is these same programs that President Obama now embraces, or at least supports without much fanfare. Bowing under political pressure, President Obama ordered his Attorney General, Eric Holder, to recant their previous decision to try KSM in a NYC public trial and instead will now be tried at Gitmo by a military commission. A noted columnist eloquently stated that "President Obama will try Khalid Sheik Mohammed at a facility he vowed to close and by a process he harshly condemned."
To be fair, the co-conspirator trial used in the movie was used against U.S. citizens. After this trial the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a year later that U.S. citizens could not be tried in a military tribunal. The argument could be made that Redford was only highlighting an abuse in this particular instance, yet it's hard to separate the political parallel and message that stems from this movie let alone Redford's well-known public record of supporting Democrat causes.
Unfortunately for Redford, he was too late to affect the national debate as the movie opened a week after the Obama Administration changed their mind about KSM. To add insult to injury, The Conspirator, in Hollywood's great tradition of liberal propagandizing, has not fared well at the movies, taking in less than $4 million and didn't even crack the Top 10 movies in its opening weekend. Rio the Movie, Scream 4, Soul Surfer, and the Arthur remake are movies that beat out The Conspirator. Ouch!
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