Saturday, June 27, 2009

Obama & "Indefinite Detention"

Terrorist rights proponents are up in arms about reports that the president is putting together an executive order "that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely." But for those who assign a higher priority to national security than to the imaginary "rights" of hostile aliens, such an executive order is necessary.

It appears that there are certain individuals held at Guantanamo, (and probably elsewhere), who are known to be terrorist enemies, yet cannot be prosecuted -- even by military tribunal. A tribunal of the type envisioned by President Bush (but never implemented) might have been able to handle them, but Obama has made it clear that his idea of tribunals would not have the kind of wide latitude necessary to handle these special cases. The most obvious example is the case of a terrorist who is implicated by evidence obtained through torture. Even if the information against him checked out, the use of torture means that it can't be used in civilian court. Whether it could be used in a military tribunal remains to be seen. But there are other possible cases where even a military tribunal probably wouldn't be able to convict. For example...

Iraqi A is an important tribal leader, and a trusted and valuable informant for U.S. forces. Over a couple of years, he clandestinely gives critical intelligence to U.S. commanders. Any information that could be confirmed was always accurate. One day he tells the local U.S. commander, 

"I have learned that Iraqi B is the commander of Al Qaeda in this region. He has been coordinating attacks against your troops."

The U.S. finds and arrests Iraqi B on the word of Iraqi A, a trusted and proven informant. Iraqi B is shipped to Guantanamo. The U.S. sees an immediate decrease in insurgent activity after his capture. The local commander is absolutely convinced that Iraqi A's information was correct, and that Iraqi B is an Al Qaeda leader

During his time in Guantanamo, Iraqi B maintains his innocence. There is no other evidence against him other than the word of Iraqi A, and the resulting decrease in insurgent attacks. The U.S. is convinced that he's an Al Qaeda terrorist. If he's tried in civilian court he will go free. The U.S. has nothing on him but hearsay from a witness who can't be identified, and wouldn't testify in court if he were. Even a military tribunal would probably have to turn him loose based on a lack of hard evidence. In cases like these the Obama administration has two basic options: one, release someone that it is convinced is a terrorist; or two, find a way to keep holding him. Fortunately for the country, it appears that the administration will choose option number two. 

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