Thursday, August 07, 2008

Mixed Verdict in Hamdan

The jurors in the military case against Salim Hamdan, the personal driver of Osama bin Laden who was captured in Afghanistan in 2001, and whose prior appeal resulted in the United States Supreme Court ruling that a military tribunal for trying enemy combatants must be created by Congress rather than the President, have handed down a mixed verdict. The BBC reports:

The jury found Hamdan guilty of five of eight charges of supporting terrorism but acquitted him of two separate, more serious, charges of conspiracy.

The fact that the verdict was mixed despite having the system stacked against Hamdan certainly belies the claim that the tribunals are nothing but kangaroo courts. (Depending on your perspective, the mixed verdict may even be evidence that there was hardly a case against Hamdan to begin with.) To be sure, problems still exist with the tribunals as they are set up. For example, there is still use of "secret evidence", although for a large part the tribunals as created by Congress are far more open than the initial creation of the President. Nevertheless, the indication seems to be that things are edging in the right direction.

Finally, as The Economist notes, in the context of the future trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the planner of the 9/11 attacks:

Those who want accountability for the September 11th attacks may come to conclude that the full force of a proper American trial, long and often frustrating though it may be, would render a more satisfying form of justice.

There is certainly a strong philosophical argument that the problem of terrorism is not one that is amenable to judicial procedures, and should be dealt with by force of arms. Yet even all but the most extreme proponents of this perspective can concede that force of arms alone would not be sufficient. In addition, even in the military there is a system of justice and a system of courts. Further, that there is such seems to be a character trait of Americans, who are famously litigious. And even if force of arms ought to be used as a tool in dealing with terrorism, surely litigation, an art refined by Americans, can and ought to be a tool as well. It is the uniquely American thing to do.

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