The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

One for 285

After Barack Obama took office, he and his attorney general sanctimoniously declared that the evil Bush administration policy of trial by military tribunal of terrorists (a.k.a. prisoners of war) housed at Guantanamo would be no more. Rather, these Islamist foreign nationals would be tried in civilian courts, protected by the Constitution of the United States—a country they wished to destroy.

It was wonderful theater—an act of moral preening that energized the Left.

However, many people in the Center and Right (and even a few on the Left) questioned the wisdom of the President’s policy, suggesting that it was naïve or even irresponsible. After all, protected by the arcane rules of criminal procedure, evidence could disallowed even though it was valid and irrefutable, and without such evidence, a jury might be forced to acquit.

No matter, our President held firm and his attorney general, with hubris that has become an administration trademark, all but guaranteed convictions.

Today, The Washington Post reports:
The first former Guantanamo Bay detainee to be tried in federal criminal court was found guilty on a single conspiracy charge Wednesday but cleared on 284 other counts. The outcome, a surprise, seriously undermines - and could doom - the Obama administration's plans to put other Guantanamo detainees on trial in U.S. civilian courts.

After deliberating for five days, a jury of six men and six women found Ahmed Ghailani, 36, guilty of conspiracy to damage or destroy U.S. property but acquitted him of multiple murder and attempted-murder charges for his role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa.

The Obama administration had hoped that a conviction on most, if not all, of the charges would help clear the way for federal prosecutions of other Guantanamo detainees - including Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators accused of organizing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The administration did not want to rely exclusively on the military commissions that the George W. Bush administration had made a centerpiece of its detention policy.

The bombings killed 224 innocent people including 12 Americans. But because Ghailani, who claimed he was an innocent dupe in the plot, was detained by the CIA, most evidence against him was what defense lawyers call “the fruit of the poisoned tree.”
Analysis of the verdict is likely to focus on the decision of [trial Judge Lewis A.] Kaplan to exclude a Tanzanian whom the prosecution had described as a potentially "giant witness." The man was expected to say that he sold Ghailani explosives used in the attack.

But the judge ruled that the government learned of the witness only through the use of coercive interrogations at CIA prisons and that the participation of the witness would taint the process.

"The court has not reached this conclusion lightly," Kaplan wrote, barring the testimony. "It is acutely aware of the perilous nature of the world we live in. But the constitution is the rock upon which our nation rests. We must follow it not only when it is convenient, but when fear and danger beckon in a different direction." The prosecution did not seek to introduce any statements Ghailani made to the CIA.

As months turn into years, it becomes increasing evident that the President allows ideology to trump clear-eyed decision-making almost every time. The verdict in the Ghailani case indicates that early concerns about the President's decision were justified. Our civilian court system was never intended to address acts of terror or acts of war committed on foreign soil or against American targets at home. Civilian trials using the rules of evidence for say, a bank robber, simply cannot be relied upon to work when a mass-murdering terrorists are involved. It’s the equivalent of using a pea-shooter to down an rogue elephant.

But President Obama’s adherents will cheer his moral steadfastness in the face of cold hard logic. They’ll call the Ghailani verdict a "triumph for the rule of law." They’ll be convinced that this verdict will demonstrate the “strength of our justice system” and the overwhelming morality of our approach. They’ll suggest that the proverbial Muslim street will now "respect us."

There’s no question that our moral standing in the world has been amplified and that justice has been served. Is there?