Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Bin Laden's driver: terrorist or camp follower?

The Supreme Court hears arguments today in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who worked for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

The case bears on two points: the constitutionality of the military tribunals Bush wants to use to try Guantanamo detainees, as well as a broader question of what constitutes a terrorist -- a term thrown around all-too-freely these days.

Hamdan says he took a job with bin Laden in order to feed his family. The Bush adminstration calls him a trained terrorist who should be tried for war crimes.

Try him, by all means -- but in an impartial court, and with a definition of "terrorist" and "war crimes" that doesn't include performing menial services for the bad guys. Justice is not served by locking up anyone who ever cooked a meal for Al Qaeda.

It doesn't aid our fight against terror, either. And it's downright unhelpful when the tables are turned.

"I've never asked for more for my client than a full and fair trial," one of Hamdan's lawyers, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles D. Swift, told an audience Monday at the Cato Institute. "When our citizens are abroad and these things are done, how will we say it was wrong?"

There is only one just way to deal with the detainees. If they are terrorists, put them on trial. If we win a conviction, we can lock them up for a very long time. If they are combatants, then treat them in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, and specifically define the conflict they are being held until the end of. No one should have to spend the rest of their life in jail for the "crime" of being a Taliban foot soldier, for example.

For more on the subject of detainees, here's an essay I wrote.

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