Well, remember all those promises Barack Obama made when he was running for president? In essence, he pledged to end the Bush model of the War On Terror and resume the Clinton model of law enforcement. Terrorists would be given fair trials, in civilian courts, with the full rights of the accused — but don’t worry, no matter what, they wouldn’t ever be released.
Well, it looks like the Obama administration is looking at revising that policy, and certain key terrorists will simply be kept locked up, with no trials.
(One side point that should be brought up here: while there is a superficial resemblance between the Obama campaign and the Obama administration, they are entirely different creatures. One should not ever think to hold the administration accountable for the promises made by the campaign. Just because it’s the same people saying much the same thing, they are not the same. Never forget that.)
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and a few other key figures are to be “detained” indefinitely. They will not be given trials, civilian or military. They will not be granted the rights of the accused. They will not be allowed to confront their accusers. They will never face justice; they will be left in cells to rot — possibly until they day they die of natural causes. Because the Obama administration simply can’t find a way to reconcile its own promises and alleged ideals with the reality of modern terrorism.
Terrorism represents something that our system simply isn’t set up to deal with. It represents a non-state organization taking on some of the roles traditionally reserved to a nation-state, and having access to weapons and means of destruction that for ages have been out of the grasp of any short of a nation-state. They combine elements of soldiers and criminals; they are waging war against us, but aren’t bound by the rules of war. Meanwhile, they are committing crimes, but they lack the motives (and therefore ways of countering them) of criminals.
Plus, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was one of three Al Qaeda leaders that, as part of their interrogations, was waterboarded. Tossing them down a hole and forgetting about them avoids opening up that whole can of worms.
So, the Obama administration wants to do something that, by their own stated principles and beliefs (not to be compared to their conduct or ever actually used to hold them accountable), is probably worse than anything the Bush administration ever did with these guys?
I’m OK with that. I understand that, sometimes, ideals are a trap. That there are times when an absolute adherence to principle is a suicide game. That there are certain circumstances and people for which there is no easy answer.
To my way of thinking, the leaders of Al Qaeda have declared war against the United States (just ask them) and staunchly and fiercely refused to obey the laws of war. As such, they are utterly unprotected by any kind of legal protections or status, and are completely outside the law.
So, lock ’em up and throw away the key without benefit of trial? Sure.
The danger here is that it sets a precedent. It grants a tremendous power to the government — to declare individuals as not entitled to Constitutional protections and act accordingly.
Which means that we, the people, need to watch this very carefully. We need to be certain that it is only used in the most extreme cases, against the worst of individuals who have committed the most heinous of acts, who have set themselves up as the equivalent of nation-states.
Three top Al Qaeda leaders so far? A good start.
It’s rare for me to find a place where I can endorse the actions of the Obama administration. To my comfort, in this case it’s a position they’ve backed themselves into, after trying pretty much every other alternative and failing. They didn’t want to end up here, with me — but here they are.