Monday, September 29, 2008

Defending Hamdan: An Expert Witness Ruminates

Complex Terrain Lab is currently running a very interesting symposium on the trial of Salim Hamdan in a US military commission. Known for being "bin Laden's chauffer," Hamdan was also a "test case" of sorts for the US military commission system, the White House's compromise with the Supreme Court over what to do with the Guantanamo detainees - a test many commentators have claimed the Bush Administration flunked. This summer, Hamdan was acquitted of many of the charges against him by a commission of US military officers, and sentenced to the equivalent of only five more months in prison.

CTLab's symposium opens with a series of posts by Brian Glyn Williams, a professor at UMass-Dartmouth who happened to serve as an expert witness for the defense in the tribunal. His narrative recounts not only a day-to-day view of the workings of the tribunal, but also a legal argument on which his testimony rested: that al-Qaeda in Afghanistan was not a mere "terrorist network" but a field military with attributes that should have qualified its members for POW status under the Geneva Conventions.

William's' conclusion is optimistic:

"The verdict will doubtless begin the process of rebuilding America’s reputation which has been damaged abroad by those who focus only on our faults and mistakes. While Guantanamo Bay remains a bone of contention even with close allies like the British, I believe that the Hamdan verdict will begin the process of reminding the world of what America stood for before it became defined by such terms as Abu Ghraib, Haditha, rendition, and most infamous of all, Gitmo."
More recent contributors are responding to Williams. Tony Waters is less optimistic, calling the Hamdan acquittal "lipstick on a pig." L.L. Wynn questions the assumption that the right to a fair trial in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions depends on whether one wears a uniform. William Snyder wonders whether Hamdan was actually lucky to be tried in a military commission rather than a regular court. Jason Ralph asks important questions about the way that the trial reconstituted understandings of "lawful" v. "unlawful" combatancy and rightly draws our attention to the history of the term, which was not invented by the Bush Administration. His post highlights the USG's inconsistency in treating the campaign against al-Qaeda as a "war" rather than crime-fighting, yet denying that the laws of war apply. (For a different view on this, see Andrew Sullivan's recent comments at the Atlantic.) Marc Tyrell ties these same questions into an interesting discussion of world order which begins with the question "When does a non-state become a state?"

The entire forum is full of fascinating food for discussion. Unfortunately I can't figure out how to comment over there. So, if you have responses to any of the above (in particular to Tyrell's in the last sentence of the above paragraph) feel free to react here.

1 comment:

Charli Carpenter said...

Diodotus, comments are working at CTLab as far as I can tell... just click "Discuss."

"; urchinTracker();