Bush lays a Guantanamo trap for the next president
If the 2008 presidential election is truly about “change,” there is surely one change that seemed guaranteed on the long-awaited 1/20/09, and that was a new policy toward the American gulag erected at Guantanamo, and the detainees now imprisoned there.
That’s because the three people all but assured — barring the Huckabee Hail Mary — of replacing George W. Bush have said they will close Guantanamo, undoing the Bush policy that perhaps more than anything else has left a nearly indelible scar on America’s sagging image in the world.
So it was a little interesting when, within days of McCain assuming a commanding lead in the race, and with the Democrats deciding between anti-Gitmo candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, that word was leaked of a secret site within Guantanamo for hard core al-Qaeda detainees, called Camp 7.
That was just the prelude — today comes this leaked story:
Military prosecutors have decided to seek the death penalty for six Guantánamo detainees who are to be charged with central roles in the Sept. 11 terror attacks, government officials who have been briefed on the charges said Sunday. The officials said the charges would be announced at the Pentagon as soon as Monday and were likely to include numerous war-crimes charges against the six men, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the former Qaeda operations chief who has described himself as the mastermind of the attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people.
A Defense Department official said prosecutors were seeking the death penalty because “if any case warrants it, it would be for individuals who were parties to a crime of that scale.” The officials spoke anonymously because no one in the government was authorized to speak about the case.
A decision to seek the death penalty would increase the international focus on the case and present new challenges to the troubled military commission system that has yet to begin a single trial.
Clearly, most Americans (myself included) do want to see the perpetrators of 9/11 and other real or planned acts of terrorism againt the United States brought to justice, even as we are seriously divided over the best way to achieve that. And, if you are one of those Americans who believe that death penalty is a moral and valid option (myself not included) then it’s also valid for you to argue that a 9/11 perp is more deserving of lethal injection than your garden-variety murder suspect.
But the timing of this strikes me as just a little bit too much of a coincidence here. The likely unraveling of Guantanamo is Bush’s worst nightmare. A legitimate criminal trial under American laws of jurisprudence would expose the worst of the Bush-Cheney torture regime, including waterboarding techniques, and have a result that nobody in this debate wants: Making it impossible to gain real justice against the 9/11 planners, because of inadmissable evidence.
A quick trial under military rules, and a speedy execution, is the only long-shot hope for Bush and Cheney for making the worst of the torture nightmare that they’ve created go away. That said, this new push for an execution is likely to rally more opinion around the world — the death penalty has been abolished or is not used in most civilized nations — against the United States; at the risk of appearing cynical, I doubt this decision would be announced if Mitt Romney and his famed “double Guantanamo” move or if Rudy Giuliani were still viable candidates.
But as today’s articles note, it is unlikely, with appeals and the like, that any conviction and death penalty could be carried out as quickly as January. That lays the problem on the lap of the next president — regardless of whether it’s McCain, Clinton or Obama — who would have to either affirm the military tribunals, or else declare on the first day of their presidency that one of their first officials acts will be to overturn a death sentence for a 9/11 mastermind.
That’s a classic Rovian political trap if I ever saw one. And it’s more proof that undoing the nightmare eight years of Bush and Cheney is going to be a lot more work than simply placing a right hand on the Bible.