In the New York Times, Tim Golden has the first of two articles, Tough Justice, on how the Justice Department and the Pentagon secretly overhauled the code of military justice in the wake of 9/11 without consulting the Congress, the national security advisor, or, seemingly, the Constitution. Three years later and after the intervention of the Supreme Court, they’ve crapped out. It’s a cautionary tale of what could happen if another terror attack occurs here and the same people are in power, especially if they have Bush-appointed justices on the Supreme Court.
In early November 2001, with Americans still staggered by the Sept. 11 attacks, a small group of White House officials worked in great secrecy to devise a new system of justice for the new war they had declared on terrorism.
Determined to deal aggressively with the terrorists they expected to capture, the officials bypassed the federal courts and their constitutional guarantees, giving the military the authority to detain foreign suspects indefinitely and prosecute them in tribunals not used since World War II.
The plan was considered so sensitive that senior White House officials kept its final details hidden from the president’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and the secretary of state, Colin L. Powell, officials said. It was so urgent, some of those involved said, that they hardly thought of consulting Congress.
White House officials said their use of extraordinary powers would allow the Pentagon to collect crucial intelligence and mete out swift, unmerciful justice. “We think it guarantees that we’ll have the kind of treatment of these individuals that we believe they deserve,” said Vice President Dick Cheney, who was a driving force behind the policy.
But three years later, not a single terrorist has been prosecuted. Of the roughly 560 men being held at the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, only 4 have been formally charged. Preliminary hearings for those suspects brought such a barrage of procedural challenges and public criticism that verdicts could still be months away. And since a Supreme Court decision in June that gave the detainees the right to challenge their imprisonment in federal court, the Pentagon has stepped up efforts to send home hundreds of men whom it once branded as dangerous terrorists.
“We’ve cleared whole forests of paper developing procedures for these tribunals, and no one has been tried yet,” said Richard L. Shiffrin, who worked on the issue as the Pentagon’s deputy general counsel for intelligence matters. “They just ended up in this Kafkaesque sort of purgatory.”
Experts tell us that most voters have had no difficulty making up their minds in this year’s presidential election. Half the nation is passionately for George W. Bush, the pollsters say, and half passionately for John F. Kerry — or, at least, passionately against Mr. Bush. We have not been able to share in this passion, nor in the certainty. As readers of this page know, we find much to criticize in Mr. Bush’s term but also more than a few things to admire. We find much to admire in Mr. Kerry’s life of service, knowledge of the world and positions on a range of issues — but also some things that give us pause. On balance, though, we believe Mr. Kerry, with his promise of resoluteness tempered by wisdom and open-mindedness, has staked a stronger claim on the nation’s trust to lead for the next four years.
At its core this election is about unhappy times in America. Our country is a sadder place than it was on Inauguration Day, 2001, and we attribute it directly to the incompetence of the President.
The economy? It remains a mess. Nearly every major economic indicator has declined since Mr. Bush took office. This country has been hurt dramatically by the administration’s fiscal policies, by egregious ethical lapses and illegal acts perpetrated by greedy corporate executives who figured correctly that at least they had a friend in the White House, by job loss that is staggering in its magnitude, and by a federal deficit that has grown to $413 billion, the largest in our history.
Nowhere has the impact been greater than here in Ohio. According to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, of every 100 Americans who have lost their jobs over the last four years, 37 have been from Ohio – a truly frightening statistic. Per capita income and home sale prices have stagnated here.
Senator Kerry, we are convinced, will be a much more effective president at creating jobs, not eliminating them.
Terrorism? The worst single attack on American soil in this nation’s history on Sept. 11, 2001, took nearly 3,000 lives. While we give President Bush credit for his steadying influence in the days and weeks after that awful day, why wasn’t more attention paid to intelligence evidence which pointed to the gathering threat in the months prior?
Mr. Kerry, who has himself gone to war and knows its horrors, will make America safer, and more respected globally.
War? This administration took America to war on a false premise, and even though Saddam Hussein is no longer a threat, a far greater evil, Osama bin Laden, is still out there, seemingly invisible in his cave somewhere, and no doubt smiling.
More than 1,100 American soldiers have died in Iraq while al-Qaeda lives to fight another day, but at least the President got rid of the guy who tried to kill his father.
The environment? Where is the comprehensive energy policy that weans America off reliance on foreign oil? Why should oil and utility interests, for whom conservation is a dirty word, hold such sway at the White House?
Personal freedoms? Understandable and reasonable precautions were in order after 9/11, but government intimidation, secrecy, and incarceration without due process were not.
That is a sorry record indeed, one worthy of defeat at the polls. It’s not just us saying it. Honest conservatives and prominent Republicans such as William Milliken, three-term Republican governor of Michigan, endorse Mr. Kerry.
In Texas politics, it is said, the man with the biggest belt buckle wins. But America, in 2004, deserves a president who brings more to Washington than swagger.
Americans should end the unhappy presidency of George W. Bush and elect John Kerry. That is America’s best hope for a more prosperous and more secure future.
Dare we wish anything less for our children?