We've heard this rationale now for more than a decade, through two successive administrations, despite the fact that hundreds of terror suspects have been successfully prosecuted in federal court. Just last Tuesday, in fact, the so-called "subway bomber" was convicted by a federal jury in New York. Hundreds of other such suspects have been convicted in civilian court since the Twin Towers fell--and there have been no security breaches.
We've heard all this, and the American people have largely trusted what they've heard. On Saturday, however, at Camp Justice at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during an arraignment of five terror suspects that lasted 13 hours, it all came undone. The new commission rules may be different than before, but they appear to be no more effective in creating the sort of sober military-court trial that the United States would like the rest of the world to see.
Instead, the arraignment devolved at times into farce. The defendants acted like petulant children. The military judge acted like Lance Ito. The defense attorneys, finally given their opportunity to vent publicly about the restrictions placed upon their clients, made windy speeches instead of answering questions. It's the most important tribunal in American history since Nuremberg, and if this is how it begins I dread to think of how it will end.
Can this really be the government's aim? To conduct a proceeding that highlights the lack of respect the defendants have for the judicial process? To create a forum, finally, for the expressions of anger over the treatment the men received after they were captured? President Barack Obama refused to create a "Torture Commission" to get to the truth of our policies. Are we ready for this commission to take the place of that commission?
What's remarkable about Saturday's courtroom show is how internally discordant it was. Yes, all the participants were in the same room. And, yes, they were all theoretically invested in the same procedural endeavor. But no one, literally or figuratively, spoke the same language. So instead of doing straight analysis, I'd like to offer up three different narratives, three generalized perspectives, of the most bizarre arraignment any of us are likely to ever see again. It all depends upon your point of view, see?
The Man On The Street
The defendants received three prayer breaks? And the proceedings were at one point delayed by prayers from inside the courtroom? One of the men during the afternoon fashioned a paper airplane and positioned it on one of the microphones at the defense table? One of the defense lawyers, dressed in a Hijab, complained about a paralegal dressed in a skirt? There were outbursts from the men? Are you freakin' kidding me?
I'd like to know why my government is giving these terror detainees more respect and deference than regular criminal suspects receive when they are on trial. What do you think would happen, in our federal courts, if a 9/11 defendant fooled around with a paper airplane at counsel table? What do you think a judge would do in any case if a defendant suddenly got up from counsel table to kneel in prayer? It's outrageous.