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Bush's Military Tribunals: The Ultimate Global Arrogance
Prior Use of Military Tribunals Involved Wars With Clearly Ascertainable Endings
Bush's Military Tribunals: He's Judge, Jury and Executioner!
Exactly What the Doctor Did Not Order: Secret Military Trials of Suspected Terrorists

Bush's Military Tribunals: The Ultimate Global Arrogance

How Would the U.S. React Were Another Nation to Authorize Itself To Conduct Secret Trials of U.S. Citizens?

November 18, 2001

Imagine if Saddam Hussein, after declaring an extraordinary emergency caused by attacks on his country, issued an order which purported to give him the legal authority to:

  • utilize Iraqi agents to abduct U.S. citizens from the United States
  • have those U.S. citizens tortured by a third country until confessions were extracted
  • set up an Iraqi military tribunal with judges of his own choosing
  • appoint lawyers for those U.S. citizens of his own choosing
  • try those U.S. citizens in secret
  • use the torture-induced confessions to convict the U.S. citizens
  • deny any right of appeal to any Iraqi court or to any international body
  • execute those U.S. citizens

The U.S. government would react with barely contained outrage!

Well, the powers hypothetically ascribed to Saddam Hussein above are the powers actually now enjoyed by George Bush with respect to non-U.S. citizens under his November 13 military order.

Upon what principles of law or equity can we argue against other nations having the right to take the same actions in their self-protection that we deem suitable to take in our own?  That we're the good guys, and they're the bad guys, and therefore they shouldn't have such rights?

The hallmark of valid legal authority is reciprocity.  If we maintain that no other nation can abduct, try in secret and execute U.S. citizens, then there is no way for us to maintain that we should have those rights with respect to their citizens.

What if in 1989 President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua had issued such an order and used it to "authorize" the kidnapping, secret trial and execution of Oliver North for organizing, funding and directing the terrorists -- the contras -- who were at that time killing thousands of Nicaraguan civilians?

Get the point?

Such international terrorism trials need to be conducted in the open so that the world can judge the fairness of the proceedings and the strength of the evidence presented. 

As to which entity should conduct such trials, international tribunals are best, since however much faith we may have in the integrity of the U.S. courts, others don't.  And we -- quite often with great justification -- have no faith in the integrity of the judicial systems of many other nations.

So the use of open trials conducted by international tribunals would protect not only non-U.S. citizens whom we want to try, but would also afford protection to U.S. citizens charged with terrorism by other countries.

This is all admittedly hypothetical, since no other nation would likely dare assert such global dictatorial rights as Bush did in his military order.

The arrogance of the United States is, admittedly, in a class by itself.

Prior Use of Military Tribunals Involved Wars With Clearly Ascertainable Endings

Bush Has Set Himself Up to Retain His Dictatorial Powers Forever

November 17, 2001

Imagine a system where the prosecutor -- in his sole and non-reviewable discretion -- can decide to bring charges, empanel a jury composed of people who work for him, select the defendant's attorney, and use hearsay evidence.  The defendant has no right of appeal to any court, only to the prosecutor.

That prosecutor is George Bush under his decree establishing military tribunals.  Even right-wingers like William Safire agree that the decree gives Bush "dictatorial power to jail or execute aliens."

Military tribunals have been utilized in many prior wars the United States has fought.  The justification for the use of such tribunals is that when a nation is at war, certain civil liberties must be modified in the interest of national security. 

But those prior wars were formally declared, against a finite number of clearly identifiable enemies.  In all those instances, the American public would know that the war was over when all of the enemies had surrendered.  Then the justification for the use of military tribunals would vanish, and so would they.

With the war on terrorism, in contrast, the enemies are terrorist groups which don't occupy defined territory and are invisible unless sought out and uncovered by law enforcement.  These are groups, according to Bush's criteria, with worldwide reach, some of which, like Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda, have cells in some 60 countries.  New groups can be formed, or previously unknown groups can surface, and they would be enemies in our war on terrorism also.

The American public has no way of independently determining when the war on terrorism will be over.  There won't be a nation physically overrun, like Germany in World War II.  There won't be a formal surrender ceremony, as with Japan in World War II.

We're totally dependent on the government telling us that all terrorist groups with worldwide reach have been effectively dismembered and no longer have the capacity to do us harm.  That would, in the Bush administration's war framework, constitute victory.  Only when such victory is achieved would the justification for the military tribunals be removed.

The critical problem is that Bush, should he choose not to, never has to tell the public that such conditions constituting victory have been achieved.  Bush, or a successor, can always claim, without fear of definitive contradiction, that some of the terrorist groups are still alive and well, or that a new group has been formed which presents a danger to our national security.

For as long as he wants, therefore, Bush can keep his dictatorial powers to try any non-U.S. citizen he says is a terrorist.

Even worse, who knows what expansion of such powers Bush will decree as the potentially endless war on terrorism extends months and years from now? 

Could Bush even apply his kangaroo court military tribunals to U.S. citizens whom Bush claims are enemy agents?  For example, protesters against the war, or critics of the methods being used in the war?

Very scary indeed.

Bush's Military Tribunals: He's Judge, Jury and Executioner!

November 16, 2001

If George Bush wants to get rid of any non-U.S. citizen in the world, he can now

  • order that person's abduction by the U.S. military
  • have that person tortured by a third country to extract a confession
  • set up a military tribunal with judges of his (or his Secretary of Defense's) own choosing
  • try that person in secret
  • use that torture-induced confession to convict the person
  • execute that person.

There is no judicial review at any stage of the process.  The accused cannot select their own attorney.  No one need be told that the abduction, torture, trial and execution ever happened: not the person's family, the U.S. press, the U.S. public-- no one!

The above totalitarian scenario is perfectly permissible under George Bush's order establishing military tribunals to try suspected terrorists.

Bush has been roundly criticized for using the terror attacks on the United States as a cover to foster adoption of some of his pet causes -- e.g., a missile shield, and tax refunds to the wealthy -- that have nothing to do with fighting terrorism.

Now a reasonable person could well fear that Bush is using the war on terrorism as a cover to establish a police state.

Once when Bush was discussing difficult relations with Congress, he "joked" that "A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it."

Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to have been joking.

Exactly What the Doctor Did Not Order: Secret Military Trials of Suspected Terrorists

November 14, 2001

George Bush has signed an executive order that would allow secret military tribunals to try suspected terrorists who are not U.S. citizens.  The secret trials could take place in the United States or abroad.  The death penalty would be available as a sentencing option.  Only a two-thirds vote of a military panel would be required for conviction, even for application of the death penalty.

This order, which does not require Congressional approval, has been condemned across the political spectrum.  Perhaps no stronger indictment came than from the far right in the person of William Safire, who opened his New York Times column with these words:

Misadvised by a frustrated and panic-stricken attorney general, a president of the United States has just assumed what amounts to dictatorial power to jail or execute aliens.

In addition to the civil liberties concerns, there are two devastating practical consequences to this course of action:

First, utilizing secret trials would open us up to a never-ending stream of accusations from around the world that we have secretly tried and executed this person and that person and this person and that person.  How could anyone believe a denial that we have done so?

Second, aren't terrorists precisely the kind of defendants we want to try publicly?  Public trials would establish for the world the guilt of those we accuse of terrorism.  Public trials showcase our system of justice, with its checks-and-balances and concern for fairness.  Public trials distinguish us from the totalitarian systems we claim to oppose. 

Secretly trying those very defendants whom we accuse of attacking our American way of life is the ultimate irony, as we adopt the methods of the very people we are putting on trial.

With all due respect to the men and women of genius in the Bush administration: this may well be your worst idea yet.

This was a selection from The Daily Diatribe

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