Friday, August 8, 2008

Why Did We Ever Put Hamdan To A Trial?

I am still scratching my head wondering why we put bin Laden's driver, Hamdan, to a trial? This was a foolish move by our government.

Salim Hamdan was tried before a military tribunal on charges that he, one, conspired with al Qaeda to attack civilians, destroy property, and commit murder in violation of the laws of war. Two, he was charged with providing material support to terrorists. He was acquited of the former, convicted of the latter. The former carried a maximum sentence of life in prison, the latter a maximum of thirty years. He was given a five year sentence.

There are basically two types of prisoners in war time - those enemy combatants whom you want to keep in captivity until the end of hostilities for self protection and those that you want to punish on the gallows for war crimes. We have long known that Hamdan provided limo service for the bearded One. That itself does not make Hamdan a war criminal.

Even though the military charged Hamdan with being a war criminal, the government did not seek the death penalty - which should be an immediate clue that their case was hardly air tight and that whatever support Hamdan provided, it was not central to the crimes. That the case was weak was not surprising. We were charging a driver, not an operational officer for al Qaeda.

Besides being bin Laden's driver, Hamdan was caught at a border crossing carrying two RPG's. Given all this, clearly Hamdan is an enemy combatant and a threat to America. Thus, we are entitled to hold onto him until the end of hostilities - and there is no end in sight for that. That's too bad for Mr. Hamdan, but you makes your choices and you takes your chances. I'm not going to lose any sleep over the harshness that he might reasonably be looking at spending the rest of his natural life at Club Gitmo.

So why even hold a trial for this guy? It does several things, none of which in the balance seem like a positive for the U.S. One, giving Hamdan a sentence to a time certain now sets up the expectation in the court of public opinion that he will be released when his time is served. This is a self-inflicted public relations nightmare for our government.

Two, it sets a precedent that we will try our detainees, even for non-capital offenses. This just took us one step closer to turning the war on terror into the police investigation of terror.

Three, we have opened up a hornet's nest with this military tribunal for every socialist and communist in politics and the ABA to claim that this was an unfair tribunal. Tribunal's should be reserved for Khalid Sheik Mohammed and people of his ilk who will be given a propoer hearing before hanging. Let the far left complain about military tribunals in those instances and their shrill shreiks will gain no traction.

The only reason I can see to have sent Hamdan before a tribunal was to test the system itself. But this was a very poor decision on the part of our government. Nothing positive came out of this trial with the exception that it seems justice in terms of the verdicts was likely served. For anyone with a lot of prior military experience, that was hardly a surprise. Fairness, objectivity and personal honesty are the finest marks of our officer corps. But all that is meaningless to the far left for whom the military is evil and the tribunal system fatally flawed regardless of outcome. They expected a kangaroo court. The fact that it wasn't has made no impression on them.

Hamdan should never have been tried. He should have been left in his cell at Gitmo with the door securely fastened until he dies or hostilities clearly end. Save the tribunals for those deserving of being hanged. This was an unenforced error by the Bush Administration.

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