Webb - Wrong On Detainee Trials

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When James Webb became a Democratic senator for Virginia in 2006 after beating George Allen, I thought it was a wonderful thing. Here was this former Reagan administration official and military veteran, recognizing that the Dem party had more potential for representing the great people of Virginia. I should have known that he was actually a conservative Democrat, at best, that it was too hard for him to hide his background. Talking Points Memorandum notes his view on the detainee trials in New York City:

"I have never disputed the constitutional authority of the President to convene Article III courts in cases of international terrorism. However, I remain very concerned about the wisdom of doing so. Those who have committed acts of international terrorism are enemy combatants, just as certainly as the Japanese pilots who killed thousands of Americans at Pearl Harbor. It will be disruptive, costly, and potentially counterproductive to try them as criminals in our civilian courts.

"The precedent set by this decision deserves careful scrutiny as we consider proper venues for trying those now held at Guantanamo who were apprehended outside of this country for acts that occurred outside of the country. And we must be especially careful with any decisions to bring onto American soil any of those prisoners who remain a threat to our country but whose cases have been adjudged as inappropriate for trial at all. They do not belong in our country, they do not belong in our courts, and they do not belong in our prisons.

"I have consistently argued that military commissions, with the additional procedural rules added by Congress and enacted by President Obama, are the most appropriate venue for trying individuals adjudged to be enemy combatants."

Now I don't know where Sen. Webb gets his history lessons, but I don't remember any Japanese pilots being tried in a military court for their attack on Pearl Harbor. In fact, the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal was, in fact, a specially appointed international court made up of (gasp!) civilians.

As for Webb's charge that a civilian court would be "disruptive, costly, and potentially counterproductive," exactly how is it beneficial that we hold these detainees for six to eight years as the military tries to figure out how it can impartially judge and convict these individuals without looking like a kangaroo court? It's not the military's job, Sen. Webb, to judge non-state actors such as these terrorists. They're base criminals - they need to be treated as such. Don't give them the benefit of being judged as "combatants" equal to our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. They aren't worth it.

If Sen. Webb believes that these detainees do not belong in our country, courts, or prisons, then he ought to direct the US government to let them go free (although, ironically, the US government can't seem to get rid of those detainees that they want to release). But Gimto is still a US interest, a military court is still "our" court system, and it's our responsibility to use the rule of law - a foreign concept to many in Congress - to dispose of these cases.

The Repubs want us to be afraid of trying the Gitmo detainees in US courts, because not using special military tribunals might actually be the successful way to do this. Get behind your party, Sen. Webb. Either support the quick disposition of the Gitmo detainees or let them go free. This subversion of US and international law has gone on long enough.


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