The Associated Press reported this past weekend on the continuing and seemingly endless delays in the saga of the Gitmo detainees and the “will they or won’t they” drama surrounding Eric Holder’s promise to try the main five (including Khalid Sheikh Muhammad – the 9-11 mastermind) in a civilian federal district court in New York City. After the predictable hue and cry from the public and from both sides of the aisle in Congress, Holder backed down a bit from his previously “strong” position that justice and fairness demanded a trial in the shadow of Ground Zero. Yet, so far as anyone knows, the Attorney General continues to say that the Gitmo Five will be tried in a civilian court, not by a military commission. This continuing drama brings into focus a few key and troubling characteristics about the Obama Administration in general and Eric Holder’s Department of Justice in particular.
First, this Administration is incapable of make any decisions and sticking with them. They have never met a navel they couldn't gaze at for days without end. Holding the trials in a civilian court in New York City is a foolish and reckless decision, but at least it's a decision. If Mssrs. Obama and Holder think it is truly the right thing to do then they should have the courage of their convictions and face the consequences. Instead, after making the decision last November to try some of the most high value detainees in New York City they quickly backtracked on both the location of a trial and whether it would be civilian or military.
Second, this Administration is seemingly incompetent. Politically, legally, philosophically, practically, and ethically the Gitmo detainee saga is a legal and political boondoggle if there ever was one. Does anyone in the White House know how to run an office, manage a docket, or hire competent help? Does anyone in the Obama Administration possess any organizational skills at all? Anyone? It's bad enough Mr. Obama was merely a community organizer lacking in any practical experience (his Administration is the least experienced in the last 100 years) when he took office. How does a divisive incompetent organize anything much less a "community"? According to the AP story above, prior military commission proceedings have been “lost in a black hole” due to incessant delays and wrangling by the Obama White House and Holder’s DOJ.
Thirdly, this Administration appears to have no taste or heart for retributive justice. In their enlightened view, punishing these folks would be like beating an infant for crying. How do we know? Because they refuse to officially punish these terrorists. It’s been nearly 9 years since 9-11 and they’ve been in U.S. custody for over 4 years. These cases, while admittedly complex, should be slam dunks. Why the reticence to move forward and seek the punishments Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and his cronies deserve – the retribution we as a nation crave and deserve after the heinous attacks on our soil and people? Anyone with a modicum of anger and a sense of justice would have prosecuted these cases by now -- somewhere somehow. It’s always a danger when justice is delayed that justice will be denied, but from Day One of The One, his promise to close Gitmo within the year there has been subject to a willful and continuing delaying action.
Finally, this Administration seems to have no love or concept of the rule of law. Progressives, broadly speaking, care more about outcomes. Conservatives love process. Make the process as fair and just as possible (including oversight and appeals) and the outcome can usually be relied upon as being fair. In other words -- people are ends and not means in a conservative and libertarian world. Our reliance upon due process is designed to protect the individual (not scapegoat persons or excuse the inexcusable). The Obama Administration is perfectly willing to let enemy combatants languish forever in limbo. Many of us fall into to the trap of using the epithet "animal" or “inhuman” to describe the Gitmo detainees. While the anger behind such rhetoric is understandable, the simple fact is that these detainees are human beings and as such deserve some due process. That is not to say they deserve or have the right to the process due American citizens or lawful combatants, but locking them up without process at all betrays our fundamental notions of justice and fairness. Playing politics and delaying making any decision until after the November 2010 midterm elections exposes the lie that Obama and Holder care about justice and the rule of law in these cases or in any cases. They are willing to sacrifice these individuals so they can appease both ends of the political spectrum. This gambit, theoretically, allows them to avoid catching heat from liberals and conservatives for making the wrong decision. To Obama and Holder the detainees are means -- not ends -- and that is wrong no matter who the person is. It is also un-American. This is a very slippery and dangerous slope. If they're willing to deny the basic requirements of due process when it comes to people they don't really see as enemies but rather sympathize with as misunderstood victims of American Imperialism, what will they do to those they perceive as their real enemies in the field of battle they take seriously – the political arena?