Our guest blogger is Ken Gude, Associate Director of the International Rights and Responsibility Program at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Salim Hamdan was found guilty of providing material support for terrorism at a Guantanamo military commission today, but acquitted of the more serious charge of conspiracy to commit terrorist attacks and murder American soldiers. So let me get this straight: After seven years and numerous court challenges including two Supreme Court rulings, the Bush administration finally stumbled its way to its first conviction in a military commission for a crime that is routinely handled in federal courts. Is this is the best they can do?
Hamdan was Osama bin Laden’s driver, not Osama bin Laden. He never denied that he was bin Laden’s driver. It would have been an open and shut case of material support for terrorism in federal court. Hamdan could have been securely locked away years ago, but the Bush administration chose to pursue the risky path of an untested military commissions system. The judge in Hamdan’s case was put in the unprecedented position of deciding how much torture was too much in determining which of Hamdan’s statements made during “coercive” interrogations would be allowed into evidence. No U.S. court has yet to decide if the entire military commissions system is lawful, and a negative verdict like the two others already handed down on military commissions by the Supreme Court could invalidate Hamdan’s conviction putting us back at square one.
Even more disturbing is that revelations at the commission point to the Bush administration squandering a real chance to capture senior al Qaeda figures, perhaps even bin Laden himself. Some testimony from government witnesses at the commission about Hamdan’s interrogation was kept secret, but statements by the defense during the closing argument show that according to government witnesses, Hamdan, who was Osama bin Laden’s driver, made a serious offer of assistance that the government failed to pursue. Hmmm. Now what kind of offer would Osama bin Laden’s driver make that would be worth the defense reminding the jurors about?
The worst aspect of this whole episode is that the Bush administration has completely devalued the concept of a war criminal. War crimes should be reserved for the most serious offenses and war crimes trials are extraordinary. Charles Taylor is a war criminal. Radovan Karazdic is a war criminal. Salim Hamdan is a chauffer. He is clearly guilty of the crime of material support for terrorism. But now he has been elevated to the status of warrior, legitimizing al Qaeda terrorists’ belief that they are waging a holy war against the United States and our allies.
We waited seven years to convict a low-level al Qaeda figure of a crime he never denied. In the process, the Bush administration passed up the chance to get bin Laden and squandered, perhaps forever, the hard-fought credibility and legitimacy of the United States. All this to give al Qaeda terrorists exactly what they wanted—confirmed status as holy warriors.
Great job, guys.