No Comment — January 12, 2010, 11:15 am

Military Justice and the Fear Game

Watching the G.O.P. spin machine attack the Obama Administration over its decision to bring a group of serious terrorist leaders, led by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to trial in New York, I am puzzled by the number of rank falsehoods that go unchallenged in the media. The critics consciously disregard the fact that Eric Holder’s decisions stack up almost perfectly with those of his predecessors, Michael Mukasey, Alberto Gonzales, and John Ashcroft. In fact, there were 87 federal court prosecutions of Al Qaeda-linked terrorists in the Bush years, according to a study by New York University’s Center for Law and Security, compared with six military commission actions. The prosecutors also achieved better outcomes in federal court by almost every measure—conviction rates, length of sentences, and time from bringing charges to conviction—than they did in military commissions. You would think Republicans would be proud of this accomplishment by a Republican Justice Department. But now it seems a politically inconvenient fact, best quickly forgotten, or even papered over with lies.

The other serial distortions concern the military justice system. Republican talking heads speak as if the military commissions really were kangaroo courts, stacked against the defendants, who would have no right to confront evidence against them, no right to counsel—and they note these things approvingly. This is a gross libel against America’s military justice system. Our system has it flaws, as any justice system does, but it’s also both efficient and just, and the assumptions of many of these politicians (some of whom actually seem to have law degrees) are simply wrong. In an interview with the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein, my friend Brigadier General James Cullen (USA, ret’d) sets the record straight:

If Republican critics of President Obama are to be believed, the administration made one of the biggest blunders in national security history when it placed the accused underwear bomber in the criminal justice system as opposed to the military alternative. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was about to spill the beans on all of al Qaeda, the argument goes, before the White House tied both hands behind its back — unilaterally limiting the type of interrogation procedures it could use on the suspect and then providing him unnecessarily with an attorney. It’s simply not true, say legal experts, including officials who formerly served in the military tribunal system.

James Cullen, a retired brigadier general who served as a JAG officer, tells the Huffington Post that there are narrow differences between the legal and interrogation proceedings Abdulmutallab was subjected to and those which would have happened in a military commission. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the suspect would have been granted access to a lawyer if he had been put in a military system. In fact, he may have had easier access to an attorney. “The military is not some type of Soviet show-trial kangaroo court,” said Cullen. “Absolutely he would have gotten a lawyer.”

[But] isn’t there a difference — with regard to the civilian and military systems — in the time that can elapse between when a suspect is captured and when he or she has to be granted legal representation? Not all that much, says Cullen. Abdulmutallab, for starters, was questioned for 30 hours before requesting a lawyer. Military personnel might have had more time. But not all that much. More broadly, even in a civil system, authorities can question a suspect without reading them their Miranda rights for a limited amount of time as long as there is “no intention to try the person” and it is “purely for intelligence purposes.” This is little different than in a military setting, where — if the detaining authority wants to prosecute the detainee — the impetus is on bringing legal counsel into the equation early on. “If you want to prosecute you can’t foul up the process,” explained Cullen.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

July 2015

One Day Less

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Dressed to Kill

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Wrong Prescription?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Travel Day

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Fugue State

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Avian Voices·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The mockingbird’s bath is an orgy of thrashing and writhing about. When he has finished, one of the innocents alights on the rim of the basin and looks with disbelief at the thimble of water remaining.”
Illustration by Eric Hanson
[Browsings]
Before the War·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I’m worried that what the Houthis did to push Yemen into a civil conflict in September 2014, the Saudis may end up doing again when they end their campaign by eliminating the Houthis.”
Photograph by Alex Potter
Article
The Speakeasy·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In order to understand how Marty’s could survive as an institution, I returned a year after my first visit to spend a week at what was sure to be the world’s bleakest comedy club.”
Photograph by Mike Slack
Post
The Lost Land·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I had first encountered some of these volumes—A Swiftly Tilting Planet, The Giver—as a child, and during adolescence, they registered as postcards from a homeland recently abandoned.”
Photograph by the author
Article
Wrong Prescription?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Whatever the slogans suggested, the A.C.A. was never meant to include everyone.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery

Estimated cost of the environmental damage caused each year by the world’s 3,000 largest companies:

$2,200,000,000,000

Two thirds of U.S. teenagers experience uncontrollable rage.

Beekeepers began extracting 1 million honeybees living beneath the siding of a house in New York State.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today