There may well be a case to be made for the use of military tribunals in cases of terrorism. For some, the interests of national security may trump constitutional guarantees of liberty and due process (I’ve heard it suggested before that “liberty isn’t much use if you’re not alive to enjoy it”). Granting this possibility, I present the case that advocates of this process must make in order to become convincing.



This post is going to require a bit of a trip down the old rabbit hole, so bear with me.

Tuesday on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich argued against Mirandizing the Christmas Day Underwear Bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Stewart countered:

STEWART: Didn’t they do the same with Richard Reid, who was the shoe bomber?

GINGRICH: Richard Reid was an American citizen.

Well, that certainly wasn’t true — Reid, who was brought to justice under the Bush administration through the civilian court system, is a citizen of England. Gingrich later corrected himself, via Twitter:

@newtgingrich: On daily show was wrong re: ShoeBomber citizenship, was thinking of Padilla. Treating terrorists like criminals wrong no matter who is Pres.


Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that five men held in the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would be moved to the United States in preparation for upcoming criminal trials in New York City. Included in this group is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has claimed to be among the masterminds of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on Manhattan and Washington, D.C.

Predictably, this has led to roars of outrage from the political right (predictably, because the move was made by the Obama Justice Department, and anything done by the Obama Justice Department elicits roars of outrage from the right). Their criticism, when it is intelligible, falls into three categories. First, there is the concern that bringing a “known terrorist” to trial in New York City (or, presumably, anywhere on U.S. soil) will make that location a target for terrorist attack. Second, some conservatives are disgusted by the idea that a foreign national is being accorded the right to civilian trial, when he is actually an “enemy combatant.” Third – and I’ve sat up over beers at a bonfire recently discussing the finer points of this one – many are worried that the trial will be a “circus” that turns into an excoriation and “embarrassment” of the United States’ intelligence community, specifically, the CIA.