Outsourcing Justice

April 6, 2011

The Obama administration’s decision to try the 9/11 conspirators before a military court at Guantanamo Bay has been decried as another example of Obama’s broken promises. Not quite. After the Obama administration announced in November, 2009 its plan to put the conspirators on trial in New York City, Congress passed legislation blocking the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. So Obama’s hands were tied. Granted, he could have vetoed that bill and waged a political battle to have his veto sustained, but given the current composition of Congress, it is doubtful that was a battle Obama ultimately could have won.

But my concern is not to assign blame for the recent decision. I think responsibility for this shameful decision is shared by Democrats and Republicans. And the decision is shameful. It is an act of cowardice alloyed with ignoble scrimping.

I’m not as concerned as some by the fact that the trial is going to take place before a military commission rather than a civilian court. This does set a bad precedent, and it displays a regrettable lack of confidence in our civilian courts, but there are sufficient due process protections built into the planned military commission to ensure the conspirators receive a fair trial.

I am more concerned about the location of the trial, and the message this conveys. The 9/11 conspirators did not attack Cuba. They attacked the United States. Specifically, they attacked New York City and Arlington, Virginia, and were foiled in an attempt to ram a plane into the Capitol. Yet the terrorists who carried out this despicable attack are not being brought to justice in the United States, but instead are being farmed out to an offshore military base that the U.S. has permanently leased (through extortion) from Cuba. Cuba retains “ultimate” sovereignty over Guantanamo, so that base is not considered United States territory, even though U.S. laws apply on the base.

Why are we sending this case offshore? The two related reasons that have been given are concerns about security and the costs of security. These are excuses, not legitimate justifications. Effectively, our message to the world is that the United States is not capable or willing, or neither capable nor willing, to place on trial in our country terrorists who have carried out a vile, murderous attack on our nation.

Hell, why don’t we save another buck or two and just send them to India? The prosecution can phone in its case.

Al-Qaeda’s long game is premised on the belief that the United States does not have the willpower to sustain a prolonged campaign against terrorism. Unfortunately, I can’t say this belief is just wishful thinking.