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Quite the World, Isn't It?

Guantanamo detainees, and the presumption of guilt

This story in the New York Times about the first of the Guantanamo Bay detainees to be tried in civilian court caught my eye this morning. What jumps out is the presumption behind the key argument against trying suspected terrorists in civilian courts - and it should be a red flag for defenders of civil liberties.

The underlying political issue is what to do with the men still detained at Gitmo. They don't don't belong there. Guilty or innocent, the plots with which the government believes they are linked amount to criminal acts, not military. And they should be tried in civilian courts.

But the bothersome element of this story is the underlying presumption that the civilian court somehow failed because the jury convicted suspected terrorist Ahmed Ghailani of only one of some 280 counts against him. “This is a tragic wake-up call to the Obama Administration to immediately abandon its ill-advised plan to try Guantanamo terrorists” in federal civilian courts, the Times quotes U.S. Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican. “We must treat them as wartime enemies and try them in military commissions at Guantanamo.”

Why? Because Ghailani was only convicted of one charge? Does King presume a military tribunal would look at the evidence differently than civilians and would have convicted Ghailani on all the counts, guilt or innocence be damned?

These are the freedoms we hold dear, and for which our terroristic enemies supposedly hate us: that the accused are innocent until proven guilty, and that justice will be blind. Summary trials and pre-ordained verdicts are the stuff of totalitarian regimes, not democratic ones. It's possible the U.S. government couldn't make its case. It's been wrong before about the men the swept up, and deprived of freedom, in the name of anti-terrorism. The presumption that a military tribunal would have convicted him Ghailani regardless of the evidence suggests King thinks the military courts are hanging courts, and not concerned with such niceties as the rule of law and the rules of evidence. There, King seems to believe, suspected terrorists would get what's coming to them. Whether guilty or innocent.

We're a better nation that that. I hope.
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