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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Terrorist Military Tribunals to Continue

OK, for everyone on the left looking for a reason to freak out – and everyone on the right looking for a reason to gloat – here’s a great one.

President Obama has just announced that some of the terrorism suspects in custody will in fact undergo military tribunals, similar to those held under the Bush administration.

Let the wailing begin.

The caveats given by the administration are that there are going to be more rights and controls on these tribunals, and that only a small number of detainees will be affected.

From KXMB:

The military trials will remain frozen for another four months as the administration adjusts the legal system that is expected to try fewer than 20 of the 241 detainees currently at the prison.

The two sides are spinning this as “Governing is harder than campaigning” (Paul Begala) and “Obama was wrong and Bush was right” (Ari Fleischer).

My take is that both are correct.

These are tough issues to fully deal with.  Much of my complacency with Guantanamo in the early days was latent anger but when that wore off there was still the unusual nature of the situation to be addressed.  Unlike traditional prisoners of war, there is no “end of hostilities” at which time prisoners can be released.  Unlike criminals, some of the detainees unrepentantly plan massive attacks if they can ever get free.  There are no direct parallels that I am aware of, but questions like “would you release Goering in the middle of WWII” are just not easy to entirely dismiss.

On the other hand, all but a few of these detainees are simply foot soldiers, and the value of maintaining them in custody at all – much less in a billboard like Gitmo – is not all that great.

If we end up with most of these folks going through the criminal system – to whatever effect – and the twenty or so headliners getting military justice followed by cells in the US it will in my opinion be about as sane and workable solution as any one of us would be able to achieve given the responsibility.

But don’t let that stop anyone from running out in the street.


  1. I definitely want to know more before expressing any outrage.

    For the record, I was always upset about Gitmo. I was also against the Iraq war. Hell, I’m against the GWOT. This should never have become a “war”. We could have gone at this an entirely different way if it hadn’t been for the Iraq invasion. But that’s a moot point now.

  2. that the Bush Administration created this situation. When these folks were detained, they weren’t arrested. They weren’t taken in accordance to any real law.

    Bringing any of these folks to trial in any form is something that the Bush Administration refused to do. Because if tried by our regular courts, they go free toot sweet. Because their rights were violated and there is no real precedent for putting them on trial. The Bush Administration dealt with this, by running down the clock, and left this mess for the next Administration to deal with.

    While you can recoil from the idea of military tribunals, there is very little recourse, if we want to see them go to trial at all–because it’s going to either be a cobbled together plan to try to salvage any sort of justice, or we have to let them go.

    This is another example of how bungled this mess has been for the last eight years. And while pundits are going to point fingers at the Administration who has been left holding the bag, full blame has to go to the Administration that bungled the arrests, the detentions, and the questioning in the first place.

    This Administration has the task of trying to salvage what Cheney and Bush botched. Plain and simple.

    By rushing the whole thing, and putting the military in control of what should have been a law enforcement matter, they pretty much tossed any ability to prosecute. And they pretty much realized this a while back. Which is why they advanced the legal fiction of “unlawful enemy combatants” and why Dick Cheney is pushing for so much face time lately. Trying to throw any reason at all, and a ton of legal minds to try to justify their rushed and bungled action.

    This is what happens when the government plays cowboy.

    And while I suppose I could gloat as a Republican, it wouldn’t do a lot of good, because Bush wasn’t right, and Obama having to clean up after him, doesn’t make him any better. I’m interested in hearing the parameters of the court–but let’s be quite honest: this isn’t “unprecedented” or “unusual” by any means. Terror attacks have been committed on British, Irish, German, Israeli, and other soils. They have managed to be tried by courts.

    OK, some of them have. The Israelis have a tendency to take care of problems in a much more pragmatic and quiet fashion. And they seem good with that. Not exactly the US’ usual MO. At least not lately, and maybe if Bush had played cowboy a LOT less, we could have dealt with things in a similar and cold blooded fashion, but he wanted his war.

    But, this should have never been called a war. The military should have only been involved as back up. And the escalation of what should have been a law enforcement matter–or given to the Special Forces as an entirely black op that never saw the light of day–has resulted in a legal nightmare.

    What can the President do? Realistically?  

  3. nrafter530

    I suspected it was either this or let them all free.

    And let’s be realistic, Obama isn’t going to let them free.

  4. are the folks who are taking this as a chance to say “Ha ha, there is NO Change!” and running with the talking point “Bush was RIGHT!”

    Because it ignores the fact that Bush put off actually going to trial for these folks. He and his Administration ran down the clock, and then passed it off.

    If Bush was so right, why didn’t he put any of these folks in trial? Why didn’t he deliver justice, swift and true?

    Because he knew that if he did, his legal fiction would be torn up like the tinfoil it’s made from, and his Administration would have been dealt a crippling blow to its already tenuous credibility.

    That there is even an attempt to bring this mess to trial, and actually sort out this legal morass is a HUGE departure. And I hope that folks don’t let this lame talking point be used. Because that is exactly what folks are hoping to do. Distract you from the fact that the previous Administration did nothing to bring folks to justice, or see justice done.

    You can complain that it’s not “enough” or that the tribunals are a hold over, but I ask that you focus on the sad fact that the Obama Administration is faced with what amounts to a legal nightmare, and that the previous Administration refused to deal with it.

    That there is talk of moving forward is a large step. A giant leap even from the limbo that many of these folks face. And the thing is: if they’d been brought in a legal fashion, this wouldn’t be news. They’d already be tried, and most would have been convicted, or set free, and this would be a non-issue.

    But, instead, we have a mess because the previous Administration refused to deal with the legal ramifications of what they were doing.

  5. HappyinVT

    decides to house any detainee indefinitely, even if it is on UN soil.  Gibbs would not flatly refute the WSJ report that doing so was under consideration.

    Indefinite detentions may be my line in the sand.

  6. psychodrew

    I actually want to give President Obama the benefit of the doubt on this for now.  On issues of war and peace, I’m going to trust his judgment for now.  He has inherited a HUGE mess and I want to give him some space to clean it up.

    Look, there were always going to be tough decisions.  And there is no way that he would always be able to do everything that he wanted to do.  It’s the reality of governing.  This really does bother me, but I don’t think he would have done this without good reason.  For now, I’m going to give him my support.

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