Sunday, November 26, 2006

Only Unlawful Enemy Combatants Need Apply

At a Thanksgiving dinner party one of the guests surprised me with the vehemence of his objection to recent Congressional action which authorized military commissions for the trying of certain Islamic terrorists. It surprised me because he was quite conservative in some of the other views he expressed that day. His complaint was that this authorization endangered his constitutional rights in general and that these powers would be abused.

Like so many other people who are not really paying attention, my dinner companion is not aware of several important points:

1. The act (Section 948d of title 10 of the United States Code) applies only to "unlawful enemy combatants" such as “a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant (including a person who is part of the Taliban, al Qaeda, or associated forces)”. In other words, this act does not apply to US citizens; it only applies to foreign terrorists or certain enemy combatants.

2. The US criminal justice system is not set up to handle cases of large-scale terrorism such as 9/11. The reason it is not is because one must commit an actual criminal act before one can be arrested and tried. Casing a bank or planning a bank robbery is not a criminal act to be dealt with by our criminal justice system – only when an overt step is taken towards carrying out that plan does a criminal act take place. With terrorist acts, we must PREVENT them, not punish them. We must take preventive steps to stop these acts because the scale of death and destruction they encompass is just too horrific. We cannot afford to take any chances with these mass murderers.

3. Another reason why we cannot try these cases in civilian courts concerns the intelligence secrets that would be revealed. No foreign intelligence service would ever cooperate with us again if they knew their agents and their methods would be discussed in open court, and our own intelligence assets would also be compromised and rendered useless.

4. One other problem with trying terrorism cases in US criminal court is that we unfortunately have embedded in our judiciary many left-wing, overly-lenient judges appointed by left-wingers like former President Carter. A perfect example of this was the 28 month sentence given to Lynne Stewart, the attorney for the blind Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman. This incredibly light sentence for aiding and abetting terrorists (she carried notes and passed communications from Rahman to his fellow terrorists) was issued by US District Court Judge John Koeltl. He cited her years of advocacy for the poor and downtrodden as a reason for a lenient term behind bars.

One situation that Congress does not seem to have confronted and solved has to do with US citizens who conspire with foreign terrorists to commit acts of terrorism on US soil. So far, the federal courts have ruled that they must be tried in US criminal court (Jose Padilla is a case in point). This does not seem like a reasonable or a realistic course of action. We shall see shortly as the Padilla case is making its way to trial in January, 2007. For reasons that are unfathomable to me, Padilla seems to have become a cause celebre of the American left.

From Wikipedia:
"Padilla was born in 1971, in New York, and moved to Chicago with his family when he was a child. He was involved in gang violence as a youth, and spent time in juvenile detention for involvement in a murder. Arrested several more times, his last prison stay was in 1991, when he was jailed for a road-rage shooting incident in Florida. He converted to Islam sometime after he was released from prison, and became friends with the head of Benevolence International Foundation, a charity which U.S. investigators have accused of funding terrorist activities. In 1998, Padilla traveled to Egypt, and then to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, where he is said to have met up with al-Qaeda operatives. A highly-placed al-Qaeda member named Padilla as having been sent to the U.S. to conduct reconnaisance and carry out attacks on their behalf, leading to Padilla's arrest."


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At 9:26 AM, Anonymous steve said...

This is a delicate balance. I want the terrorists stopped and I DON'T want us getting tripped up in our own bureaucracy in preventing them.

But I agree with your guest that there is cause for concern. A lot of the criteria is subjective as to whether or not someone qualifies.

At 6:51 AM, Anonymous Mason said...

No law exists that doesn't restrain some of our rights to protect the rights of the majority. Even a stop sign restricts what I can do on the highway.


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