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:

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

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.

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

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2016

Bird in a Cage

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Hidden Rivers of Brooklyn

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Save Our Public Universities

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Rogue Agency

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Mad Magazines

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Killer Bunny in the Sky

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Save Our Public Universities·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Whether and how we educate people is still a direct reflection of the degree of freedom we expect them to have, or want them to have.”
Photograph (crop) by Thomas Allen
Article
New Movies·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Force Awakens criticizes American imperialism while also celebrating the revolutionary spirit that founded this country. When the movie needs to bridge the two points of view, it shifts to aerial combat, a default setting that mirrors the war on terror all too well.”
Still © Lucasfilm
Article
Isn’t It Romantic?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“He had paid for much of her schooling, something he cannot help but mention, since the aftermath of any failed relationship brings an ungenerous and impossible impulse to claw back one’s misspent resources.”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
The Trouble with Iowa·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It seems to defy reason that this anachronistic farm state — a demographic outlier, with no major cities and just 3 million people, nine out of ten of them white — should play such an outsized role in American politics.”
Photograph (detail) © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Article
Rule, Britannica·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“This is the strange magic of an arrangement of all the world’s knowledge in alphabetical order: any search for anything passes through things that have nothing in common with it but an initial letter.”
Artwork by Brian Dettmer. Courtesy the artist and P.P.O.W., New York City.

Number of people who attended the World Grits Festival, held in St. George, South Carolina, last spring:

60,000

The brown bears of Greece continued chewing through telephone poles.

In Peru, a 51-year-old activist became the first former sex worker to run for the national legislature. “I’m going to put order,” she said, “in that big brothel which is Congress.”

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Two Christmas Mornings of the Great War

By

Civilization masks us with a screen, from ourselves and from one another, with thin depth of unreality. We habitually live — do we not? — in a world self-created, half established, of false values arbitrarily upheld, largely inspired by misconception, misapprehension, wrong perspective, and defective proportion, misapplication.

Subscribe Today