Nov. 25, 2001
The big story last week besides the hunt for Osama bin Laden has been the brouhaha over George Bush's decision to convene military tribunals to try non-U.S. citizens suspected of committing or assisting in acts of terrorism against the United States.
This course of action to use the powers delegated to the commander-in-chief during times of war is based on a number of factors. For starters, much of the evidence collected and presented at trial will be secret and its disclosure would compromise both our ongoing investigations and military operation against terrorism, potentially leading to additional loss of American lives. Then there's the matter of geography.
Transporting hundreds of Bin Laden's troops and thousands of witnesses to the the United States opens a Pandora's box of questions regarding extradition and jurisdiction that could take years to answer.
The big question is, "Can fair and impartial justice be meted out by a military commander in a tribunal?" I believe it can. America's military officers are highly trained, college educated professionals who respect both justice and the rule of law. They have devoted themselves to protecting and defending our Constitution and our way of life, and will conduct tribunals with dignity, clarity, and a desire to see justice done.
Our officers understand the threat facing our nation and have the means and will to eliminate that threat. We trust them to lead our sons into battle on the wings of the largest arsenal the world has ever known, and I am confident we can trust them to fairly handle the fate of our enemies.
Perhaps the greatest reason to have military tribunals decide the fate of terrorists, though, is to avoid the alternative. Where military men see justice for terrorists as a matter of black and white, you can be sure that all too many lawyers see it in a thousand shades of gray.
Somewhere in their education they are indoctrinated that no matter how vile the criminal, it is their duty to use every technicality, manipulation of the law, and clever use of semantics to set their clients free, regardless of guilt or innocence. Our constitutional right to legal defense has been twisted into a joke through a desire, not just to ensure that the accused receives a fair trial, but to win at any cost.
Since when? Pardon my naivete, but I thought the purpose of our justice system was to punish the guilty and acquit the innocent.
Defending a man you believe to be innocent is noble; acquitting a man you know to be guilty is sick.
Were the same conventions and courtesies applied to the trial of terrorists that are to U.S. citizens, can you imagine the difficulty of seating a jury? Do we really want 12 people who have never heard of bin Laden and the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon deciding the fate of a madman who has urged a billion Moslems to kill Americans all over the globe?
Do we really want to hear the excuse matrix of how the terrorists suffered from low self-esteem, were temporarily insane, were driven to violence by American arrogance, etc …?
How many years' worth of appeals are we willing to endure before we see justice done to those responsible for the deaths of 5,000 Americans?
If you want to split hairs over whether or not some dot-com company is monopolizing a software application, send $500-an-hour lawyers to argue forever. But if the issue is how to handle an enemy who has declared war on America, send the Marines.
Craig Ziemba, a pilot, lives in Meridian.