Military prosecutors today issued the first charges relating to the September 11 attacks, saying they would seek the death penalty against six detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, including the alleged mastermind of the plot, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
The Department of Defence, which is leading the prosecution through a controversial and much-criticised process of military commissions, issued 169 charges against the men that include conspiracy, murder in violation of the law or war, attacking civilians, destruction of property and terrorism.
Even putting aside, for a moment, my consistent opposition to the death penalty, there are several things that I find quite odd about this development.
First, no military tribunals have been held in full so far. (One guy, from Australia, did plead out.) No one in Guantanamo Bay has even been convicted of jaywalking. So we're going to start with six capital murder prosecutions?
Second, two of the six people up for prosecution were, according to our government's own admission, subjected to waterboarding. The U.S. Department of Justice can say whatever it wants: Any American of sound value and good common sense knows that torture in any form violates our basic principles and tends to be counterproductive, since the person being tortured will say anything his captors want to hear. So, are these two detainees going to be convicted on the basis of information that was extracted from them while under torture?
Third, the very right of the U.S. military to hold these people for years and years has not been fully adjudicated. Do they have access to habeas corpus or don't they?
Fourth, the timing is quite interesting. Undoubtedly, the partisan Republicans in the White House want to make this an election issue. They are desperate to figure out how to inject national security into the ongoing McCain/Clinton/Obama debate. Good luck with that -- probably the best thing our side can do is not take the bait.
For more on this, go here.