If You're Innocent, You Might Be Able to Get the Sentence Reduced to Life


The Bush administration is circulating a bill that would tweak the rules for trying accused terrorists before military commissions. The New York Times says the new rules include some additional protections for defendants, but after reading the article twice I'm still not sure what they are. Hearsay would still be admissible as evidence, and so would information obtained through coercive interrogation techniques (though not through torture–but remember that waterboarding is not torture). Defendants could still be excluded from their own trials. Instead of starting with standard court-martial procedures and revising them as required to handle terrorism, as several influential senators would prefer, the administration is startiing with the commissions nixed by the Supreme Court and hoping that a few barely perceptible revisions will suffice.

The procedural details may not matter in any case. "Rather than requiring a speedy trial for enemy combatants," the Times reports, "the draft proposal says they 'may be tried and punished at any time without limitations.' Defendants could be held until hostilities are completed, even if found not guilty by a commission." If "hostilities" are not completed until the world is rid of terrorism, suspects can get a life sentence with or without a trial, no matter what procedures are used and regardless of the verdict.