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Jewish World Review Nov. 27, 2001 / 12 Kislev, 5762

Laura Ingraham

Laura Ingraham
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Consumer Reports

Military tribunals provide streamlined justice -- WHAT can Democrats do as President Bush's approval rating continues to hold steady in the 90% range? Desperately scour the political landscape for leverage on fringe issues, apparently.

How else to explain the decision of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to hold hearings on the president's Nov. 13 executive order that allows for military trials of suspected terrorists and their helpers.

To listen to the scorching rhetoric on the left, one would think the administration had indiscriminately begun rounding up people during Ramadan instead of breaking the fast with Muslim leaders, as Bush did at the White House.

"They're literally dismantling justice and the justice system as we know it," bellowed Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said, "These procedures belong in a Soviet state or a dictatorship, not in a free society."

The New York Times' lead editorial branded Bush's decision on military courts "A Travesty of Justice." In liberal lock step, The Washington Post described the tribunals as "comparable" with "secret courts by hooded judges in Peru." Neither newspaper bothered to mention the fact that presidents throughout history (Washington, Lincoln and FDR) relied on military trials. Or that the Supreme Court's Quirin decision in 1942 upheld their use for "unlawful combatants" engaged in murderous plots against America.

Some conservatives, such as William Safire and Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., are also against the use of military commissions. Democrats who were blasting Barr as an obsessed, seething Clinton-hater a few years ago now cite him as a learned, reasonable Republican.

The president's executive order is narrowly tailored. It allows for military tribunals against a non-U.S. citizen if there is "reason to believe" the person is or was a member of al-Qaeda and "has engaged in, aided or abetted, or conspired to commit" acts of terrorism against U.S. interests, or is preparing to do so. Tribunals are straightforward in their application, used for those carrying out war crimes.

Much of the anti-military-tribunal howl centers on the fact that the proceedings are held in secret. However, it is eminently reasonable to think that as we pursue our war against terror, the public prosecution of individuals who are part of a worldwide conspiracy to murder as many Americans as possible would be harmful to a wide variety of U.S. interests. Classified information whose secrecy is critical to future U.S. investigations could be compromised - such as the identity of double agents, specifics of other terrorist plots and the details of the covert techniques used by our government to prevent them.

And let's not forget: The media have a built-in conflict of interest in assessing the pros and cons of the secrecy of military tribunals. It would be great business for the media if the tribunals were public, but what about for our country? If you thought the anchor-jockeying for the Gary Condit interview was vicious, imagine what Diane, Larry, Ted or Barbara would do to get the first Osama bin Laden TV sit-down.

In wartime, it is incumbent upon our commander in chief to make the safeguarding of U.S. citizens his top priority. By authorizing military commissions, he sends an important deterrent message to aspiring terrorists worldwide: If you set out to kill Americans - whatever your justification - you will pay swiftly and severely.

With the Taliban near total collapse, it is likely that military tribunals have already been convened at home or abroad. As Catholic University law school dean Douglas Kmiec pointed out, this is not just about punishment. The tribunals "are extensions of the military campaign" to prevent future attacks, which Congress has authorized the president to do.

Imagine what fun bin Laden would have dragging out a trial in U.S. federal court, his pre-trial objections and deft courtroom maneuvers carried by his own "dream team" of $600-an-hour lawyers. Should families of the victims of Sept. 11 be forced to endure media coverage of terrorists' trials and the lengthy appeals that would follow? (With thousands of al-Qaeda members worldwide, a new cable network could be launched to accommodate wall-to-wall trial coverage - TTV, Terrorism Television.)

Some have floated the idea that we mete out wartime justice through an international panel of judges - something akin to the United Nations war-crimes tribunal now trying former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic. Do we really need a permission slip from the U.N. to try the people who planned and organized the Sept. 11 attacks?

Although it is true, as the president has said, that terrorism threatens all civilized nations, we are fighting this war for our national interest first, not for some U.N.-scripted new world order. That we welcome and seek cooperation in the war against terror is irrelevant to the fact that it is our national right and responsibility to defend our citizens against those who want to do us harm, and our leaders' duty to find them and bring them to justice.

Farming out our judicial interests for the "global good" would set the terrible precedent that we do not have the sovereign right as a nation to capture and try people who have murdered or plan to murder our innocent citizens. Whatever damage military tribunals do to our international reputation, we risk far greater damage to our national psyche if non-citizen terrorists are allowed to exploit our system and our national pain in prolonged and costly courtroom dramas. Do any of the president's naysayers remember his visit to an Islamic center only days after the attacks? Or his subsequent gestures to reassure Muslim-Americans?

If Democrats and their civil-libertarian compatriots want to take up the case of terrorist rights in the 2002 elections, Republicans will be smiling all the way to electoral gains. Bush continues to maintain overwhelming public support for his war against terror because he is aggressively pursuing terrorists and those who harbor them. The administration has struck a balance between the public's right to know and the need to destroy al-Qaeda before it strikes again.

Bush knows that the media beast will always be hungry for more. But military tribunals, which avert the possibility of a media spectacle for militant martyrs and safeguard classified information, give this country what it deserves after Sept. 11 - streamlined justice for war criminals.

JWR contributor Laura Ingraham is the host of a radio show syndicated nationally by Westwood One Radio Network. Comment by clicking here.

09/07/01: Scariest animal wears pants
08/17/01: Depressed after seeing uncut version of Apocalypse Now --- and for good reason
07/20/01: The other, maybe more important, news
06/22/01: Washington's pro-Bono worship is unnerving
06/01/01: Burying conservatism
05/17/01: Ashcroft's abuse of power

© 2001, Laura Ingraham