You would think that this week's news would be set by the State of the Union speech.
I haven't watched a State of the Union speech since the one following the 9/11 attack. By most accounts, I didn't miss much.
The most interesting item was the possibility of licensing the building of more nuclear power plants. Since a friend of mine is a nuclear engineer from Westinghouse, working at a nuclear plant in Pittsburgh, I may have to follow up on that sometime.
However, this week there was one item of national news that I think is worthy of a little extra analysis and commentary. The President has let it out that the trial of terrorism detainees will not happen in New York City.
What was the justification for having the trials in NYC? Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the proper jurisdiction and venue for a criminal case is at the federal court in the location where the crime occurred. While I do not believe that enemy combatants deserve any treatment other than as provided in the Geneva Convention, which calls for a court martial, a trial in NYC at least made plausible sense.
Later in the week, information leaked out that the trial could be had at Battery Island, New York. Due to security issues, a trial in NYC would cause about 25 percent of Manhattan to be locked down. Such a trial would last at least as long as the O.J. Simpson trial. The federal court there would practically cease to function for more than a year creating chaos in the federal legal system in the heart of the economic capital of the world. Battery Island would be relatively easy to secure and is, for all practical purposes, abandoned. It was last used as an insane asylum and place of quarantine about 50 years ago. Problem solved?
The buildings there are literally in ruins. Everything would have to be bulldozed and a new federal courthouse would have to be built at a cost of many millions and would take at least a couple of years. Moreover, Battery Island is in a different county, which I outside of the jurisdiction of Manhattan.
All right, what about a federal court in someplace like Leavenworth, Kan.? Surely they would appreciate the millions of extra dollars spent there for an upgrade. It is also the home of both federal civilian and military prisons. Problem solved?
Kansas is not the proper jurisdiction and venue. At least Battery Island is close to NYC. If the trial is in Leavenworth, we just lose the entire justification for trying these people in the civilian federal court system.
What can we do? Senator Bayh asserted this morning that the trials should be done where they can be done speedily, with maximum security and minimal cost. Where could that be?
Wait a minute⁄ What about the multi-million dollar ultra-max security court complex that President had built on the naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba? After all, the prisoners are already there. The money has already been spent. It poses no threat to the continental U.S. Even issues involving national security, such as methods, techniques, and assets involved in intelligence gathering, can be readily handled.
But that, I fear, is a non-starter. Our president is no quitter. He won't quit on his plan to overhaul the American medical system, the banking system, the stock market, or the auto industry. He won't even quit smoking cigarettes! How could we possibly expect him to quit on his campaign pledge to close Guantanamo?
After all, Guantanamo is a blight on our international image. It makes our enemies hate us even more. They might hate us a little less if they can rant their hate filled ideology on national television for a year or so. Surely that would never be used for propaganda or as a recruiting tool by our enemies.
Trials anywhere other than on Guantanamo by a military commission is a lose/lose proposition. The U.S. Attorney General has "guaranteed" 100 percent convictions. If he is right, it looks like the fix was in and the prisoners never had a fair trial. If there are acquittals (O.J., anyone?) then what do we do? After all, everyone of these prisoners have been denied their fourth, fifth, sixth, and allegedly eighth Amendment rights. Normally, that means that all evidence gathered is thrown out and the case is dismissed.
Acquittals or dismissals means that these people, who gave us actionable intelligence because they were enemy leaders, will have to be set free to plot against us again. It will also show the world that we can be attacked with virtual impunity. We will show the world that in our efforts at self-defense, we are our own worst enemies.
It is time to face hard cold reality. Guantanamo is a good idea. Using military tribunals is a good idea. Guantanamo trials could be held quickly, provides maximum security, and has a minimal cost. Simply put, it is the right thing to do.