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.
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.