As expected, Osama Bin Laden’s former driver Salim Hamdan was found guilty of five counts of material support to a terror organization in the September 11, 2001, attacks. He was tried before the military tribunal and found not guilty of conspiracy to aid a terror organization by a panel of six military officers. The verdict is likely to be dismissed around the world due to the means used to secure it. The tribunals have been rightly ridiculed as kangaroo courts, even by conservatives.
Ironically, if President Bush had simply relied on the justice system, these men would likely have been convicted and sentenced years ago. Instead, after spending millions and losing credibility around the world, the Administration is struggling to secure a handful of convictions before Bush leaves office to offer some vindication for this ill-conceived system.
Nevertheless, White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto promptly announced that “We’re pleased that Salim Hamdan received a fair trial.” Well, it is good to know that White House is pleased.
Ultimately, these convictions will do little to help the legacy of the President Bush. Hundreds of people were held under abusive conditions, including some who were tortured, at Cuba. The vast majority were released due to a lack of evidence. These abuses are the result of a system that metes out justice at the discretion of a president — as system created as an alternative to an independent legal process.
The tragedy is not that Hamdan was convicted. I do not know what the truly admissible evidence was against him, but his connection to Bin Laden is incriminating in itself. The tragedy is that justice was not done because he was not convicted in a way that makes the result credible and acceptable. We have now joined countries like China and Pakistan in using special military tribunals for people who we want to convict at any cost. The Bush tribunals are viewed, in my view correctly, as a rigged system. It lacks the essential element of legitimacy in the eyes of the world. This will fuel claims around the world that we are nothing but hypocrites in calling for the rule of law and independent justice.
We are better than this tribunal system, but we have left the impression that we cannot trust real courts because we are afraid of the results of a real trial.
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