20 July 2007

Trial By Newspaper

Mr. Al-Marri, the only person detained as an "enemy combatant" in the United States, whose detention has been held to be unlawful by the conservative United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit (the government has requested en banc review of the decsion), was profiled today by the Washington Post, in a lengthy story that, if true, coroborates government arguments that Al-Marri is indeed a man who was ready to commit or conspire to commit terrorist acts.

It is pretty clear, from the nature of the information in the story, that it flows from an intentional leak by government officials of information that, until they lost in court, they had insisted on maintaining in the utmost secrecy for five years. Most likely, this was done in an effort to sway the judges on the en banc panel of the 4th Circuit, who might not otherwise be able to imagine why the government is acting as it is in his case.

But, the real question is why the administration hasn't allowed these facts to come out in a habeas corpus hearing or criminal terrorism proceeding, rather that insisting on a "because I say so" stance. The handling of Al-Marri's case by the administration has done untold damage to the effectiveness of the United States in diplomatic circles and through international cooperation in stopping terrorism, and his detention has also apparently not produced any meaningful intelligence.

In contrast, a public trial, revealing the details alleged, could have provided a perfect forum for the administration to prove the the country and to the world, that they are doing more than crying wolf over terrorism allegations, and that their actions with regard to this man in particular are justified.

The facts described in the Washington Post article are far more persausive than the case that the prosecution put forth against Jose Padilla in Miami, Florida these past nine weeks. But, they haven't been tested in a court. The admininstration is trying to try Al-Marri's case in the newspapers, and its history of exaggerating the facts in cases like Padilla's and those of hundreds of other criminal terrorism defendants and Guantanamo Bay detainees has undermined its credibility.

In a self-fulfilling prophecy, the Bush Administration's misguided approach to terrorism and insistence on fighting an ill advised war in Iraq, have put our nation at greater risk of a terrorist attack. Nobody doubts that the threat from Al-Quida is real now, whatever the danger was before if it had been handled properly. But, the FBI and local law enforcement appear to be considerably better suited to the task, domestically, than the spooks and the military.

In Iraq and at home, the basic lesson that the administration has failed to learn is that it isn't enough and is sometimes counterproductive even, to simply try to kill bad guys. You have to win in a manner that makes clear your moral superiority. We need to be able to say, as Harry Potter says at the end of the Order of the Phoenix, "We've got something he doesn’t have. We've got something worth fighting for." So long as the Bush Administration insists on acting like an evil empire, it will encourage attacks on the United States. They've already put us at greater risk by their actions. And, unless we change course, we will simply keep making our enemies stronger.

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