Miranda Dictu


New at Reason: Jacob Sullum on due process for suspected terrorists.

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  1. Might as well just get this out of the way right now, to avoid any confusion:

    Nobody is saying terrorists should be released. We’re just saying that when the federal government points to somebody and says “he’s an enemy of the United States” and the guy says “no I’m not”, there should be some process to figure out who’s telling the truth.

    Unless, of course, you trust the federal government on everything that it says.

  2. Now Thoreau you have taken the fun out of this argument.


  3. thoreau,

    I remember when Ass-crap said there was no reason to fear military tribunals, because they weren’t being used against ordinary criminals–just those who committed the most heinous offenses.

    Well, all righty then! So long as they’re only being used against GUILTY people, they must be OK. Of course, I’ve never heard of a cop or prosecutor who didn’t “know” everybody that got arrested was guilty as sin, from jaywalkers on up. So why limit this innovation to just terrorism? If you can take the government’s word on who’s guilty, why not have military tribunals or detention without charge for ALL criminals. It sure would save a lot of money.

  4. There is a difference between a criminal act and a war act. Unfortunately sometimes even our Presidents are not clear on that. Under the Geneva Convention, beligerants caught on the battlefield out of uniform can be summarily shot. POWs are held, with only compassionate visits, until the war is over unless earlier exchanged. If we had treated the 93 WTC bombing as an act of war instead of as a crime, 9/11 might have been prevented.

  5. Gene-

    First, what concrete actions should have been taken in 1993?

    Second, you don’t seem to have too much of a problem with the federal government summarily killing people whom it apprehends on the battlefield. Killing a guy because he’s shooting at you is one thing. Killing a guy whom you have taken into custody and now have control over (i.e. he’s in no position to harm you now) is another.

    And as for holding people until the war is over, I could potentially support that if we had some concrete metric for when the war will be over. Tell me how we’ll know when the “war on terror” is over. One could argue by your standard that since we overthrew the Taliban government the Afghan detainees must be released (if they were caught in uniform, which might be a problem for those fighting under the command of tribal warlords who don’t issue uniforms).

    Now, you’ll probably say “You don’t get it. The government does have the right to do this. There’s no debating it.” OK, so the legislation was passed and/or the treaties ratified. That doesn’t mean the federal government should have those powers. There are plenty of things which have been signed into law by the proper process that are nonetheless bad, and some of those things are even Constitutional (e.g. the income tax, explicitly authorized by the 16th amendment).

  6. Thoreau — durn him — said most of what I wanted to say.

    But I will add, regarding Jose Padilla in particular:

    1. Every suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

    2. Every American citizen is CONSTITUTIONALLY GUARANTEED a fair and speedy trial. Being held incommunicado and without charge for years hardly qualifies. Padilla is an American citizen, and was arrested within the US.

    3. Everyone has the right to petition for habeas corpus. We are going to need another Magna Carta once Bush is finished with us, if things continue at the present rate.

  7. Kevin – a little pointer – when you refer to the AG as “Ass-crap,” all credibility evaporates from your comment and you lose any chance of affecting anyone’s thinking.

  8. I know a terrorist when I see one, and I’ve got my eyes on some of you traitorous malcontents.

  9. Thoreau wrote:

    Second, you don’t seem to have too much of a problem with the federal government summarily killing people whom it apprehends on the battlefield.

    Actually what Gene said was what the requirements of the Geneva Convention are with regards to the unlawful combatants captured in Afghanistan. If the Guantanemo prisoners qualify as ?unlawful combatants? (see the link on my name), then we quite probably could have simply shot them. In which case, they are already receiving better treatment then they have a legal entitlement to and Jacob Sollum?s comparison of them to criminal defendant is probably invalid.

  10. Thorley-

    I have no doubt whatsoever that under the applicable laws our soldiers could have simply shot them on the spot.

    My question was whether we should encourage our government to shoot people who are in custody and under the control of US soldiers and are hence not in a position to harm us as long as they are kept under guard. (note the phrasing, it has all sorts of caveats so that nobody can tell me I’m suggesting our soldiers shouldn’t fight back when somebody attacks them)

    If you can protect yourself and others without killing somebody, I just don’t see how it’s morally acceptable to kill him. (Note that “morally acceptable” is not the same thing as “legally acceptable”)

    I’m sure people will now accuse me of being a bleeding-heart liberal.

  11. Hm…I’d rather be shot than the spend the rest of my life in a 6’x6′ cell with the light on 24 hours a day.


  12. I know this is straying a little off-topic, but I’d rather spend the rest of my life in that cell than be shot. If I was denied any other form of diversion or contact I could probably keep myself amused by doing math in my head. It’s a little tough to do math in your head if a bullet has gone through your head.

  13. Gene’s important point contains the essential phrase “on a battlefield.” The ability of the government to apply “ununiformed enemy combatant” status to unarmed people flying on planes after meeting with terrorists (Padilla) depends on their ability to define the entire world, including your town, street, and living room, as a “battlefield” in the “War on Terrorism.” When considering the wisdom of this designation, please consider the following:

    Innocent civilians may be killed if they are on a battlefield, and the prosecution of the war requires an action that kills them. In other words, you have exactly the same level of protection from the US government, under this theory, as a German worker in a tenement next to a munitions factory in 1944.

    Property, including occupied family homes, may be seized with impunity if doing so is necessary for the prosecution of the war. In other words, if “the whole country is a battlefield,” you have the same property rights at the Dutch family in “A Bridge Too Far.”

    The movements of civilians may be restricted by military personnel for their own protection, for the protection of the troops, or to further a military objective, at the discretion of the soldiers on the scene. In other words, if “the whole country is a battlefield,” your freedom of movement is comparable to that of Vietnamese fishermen on the Mekong River in 1970.

    Happy Monday, all.

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