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Military Tribunals: A Wartime Necessity

Patrick J. Buchanan

When Leon Czolgosz shot President William McKinley in 1901, he was tried before a civilian court, as was Giuseppe Zangara, the would-be assassin of President-elect Franklin Roosevelt in 1933.

When John Hinckley Jr. shot President Reagan in 1981, he, too, was tried before a civilian court. But those who plotted the murder of Lincoln were tried by a military commission at Ft. McNair - with U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt presiding - and hanged.

The difference? In April 1865, the Union was still at war. Spies and saboteurs caught behind Union lines were turned over to the Army. This was true for both sides. Thus, in judging President Bush's decision to use military tribunals, only two questions need to be answered. Is America at war? Is our homeland under attack?

With Marines and special forces in combat in Afghanistan, and grieving New York firefighters still digging in that smoking pile of rubble in lower Manhattan for the charred remains of their buddies, the answer to both is obvious. Why then is Bush being treated like some arsonist of the Bill of Rights for following tradition and doing his duty as a wartime commander in chief?

General Washington used a military tribunal to try and hang Major John Andre, the British spy and emissary to Benedict Arnold. FDR used military tribunals to try Nazi saboteurs put ashore from U-boats. Six Nazis were executed. Lincoln used military tribunals to convict and hang Southern saboteurs. Moreover, he suspended habeas corpus, imprisoned thousands without trials, locked up editors and made himself a virtual dictator of the Union.

But if history has approved of the wartime military tribunals of Washington, Lincoln and FDR, why is John Ashcroft under siege? After all, more innocents have been massacred in atrocities in Bush's war than in any other war in U.S. history. Why the double standard, Sen. Leahy?

Some now argue that the Nazi saboteurs should have been tried in civilian court. But suppose instead of six, it had been 600 Nazis. Suppose Tojo had put ashore 1,000 "kamikaze tourists" in 1941 with orders to run amok, bombing and killing, to create panic in America as soon as Japan attacked. Would each and every Nazi and Japanese saboteur have been entitled to his own separate civilian trial?

Have those demanding civilian trials for foreign terrorists thought through the logic of their position? They are saying it is permissible to drop a 15,000 pound daisy-cutter bomb on Osama bin Laden and his extended family in Kandahar, but if he makes it to U.S. soil and blows up the Sears Tower, the families of his victims must pay for his defense and his trial can be carried on Court TV.

Would prosecutors be required to permit bin Laden's lawyers to question al-Qaida defectors who betrayed him, or see raw intelligence data leading to his indictment? This is not a game we are in, but a war where the next great terrorist attack could be the detonation of an atomic weapon in an American city.

Recall: It took longer than World War II to convict and execute Timothy McVeigh. If every terrorist who slips into the United States is instantly entitled to all of McVeigh's protections and appeals, America will become a haven for terrorism, because America will be the safest place on earth to plot and ply their murderous trade.

This hostility to military tribunals is rooted in part in that 1960s radicalism exemplified by Bill Clinton's letter to his ROTC colonel, saying the best people he knew "loathed" the military.

Since Vietnam, this attitude has infected our popular culture and is reflected in films from "Dr. Strangelove" and "Seven Days in May," to "Apocalypse Now" and "Platoon." In the 1990s movie, "A Few Good Men," a wiseacre Ivy League grad (Tom Cruise) uses his cleverness to expose the fascistic militarism of the Marine officer (Jack Nicholson), who commands the detachment at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Hollywood formula is ever the same: Liberal heroes triumph over military fascists.

The line used to infer that West Pointers are somehow suspect jurors is: "Military justice is to justice what military music is to music." But who would not prefer John Philip Sousa to punk rock? And does anyone think a tribunal of Navy or Marine officers would have handed in a verdict as chowder-headed as did the O.J. jury, mesmerized by the "If-the-glove-doesn't-fit-you-must-acquit!" antics of the "Dream Team"?

But this matter can be readily resolved. Let Congress vote to outlaw military tribunals in the war on terrorism, then let voters sit in a tribunal of judgment on a malingering Congress. My guess? Capitol Hill will raise a mighty racket about military tribunals to mollify their goo-goos, but it will not dare to confront Bush. They've read the polls.

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Right Rallies Behind Bush on War
Prominent, long-time conservative leaders interviewed by Human Events last week [PJB included] expressed strong support for the carefully targeted war that President Bush has fought to overthrow the Taliban and destroy al Qaeda, and question the wisdom of immediately launching a preemptive war against Iraq,” reports John Gizzi.”

Why Saddam? Why Now?
Steve Chapman writes, “There is only one situation in which it would make sense for Saddam to use any weapons of mass destruction he may possess: an American-led attack with the clear intent of eliminating his regime once and for all. If the U.S. Army were rolling into Baghdad, he would have nothing to lose by unleashing all the havoc he can muster-which, as the hawks have been telling us, could be considerable. If they get their way in dealing with Saddam, they may also realize their worst fears.”

Melting Pot Meltdown
“In today’s multicultural America, an immigrant can pick and chose. He can take what he wants and leave alone what he doesn’t. What is taken is economic betterment and what’s left alone is all things American,” writes Joe Guzzardi.

Sept. 11 Spending Tally
Citizens Against Government Waste calculates the bottom line - and rightfully cringes.


  Operation Enduring Freedom: Bombing of Kandahar Continues
American forces are still bombing the last Taliban stronghold. The New York Times reports that “The Taliban, though squeezed by bombardment and opposition attacks, remained firmly entrenched in Kandahar, and pockets of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters were operating out of a region between Jalalabad and the Pakistani border.”

POTUS: Meets With Sharon
Three Palestinian suicide bombers killed 25 and wounded 200 over the weekend, prompting Yasir Arafat to call for the arrests of militants and President Bush to demand the break-up of the Palestinian Authority’s terror groups. After a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, President Bush said, “This is a moment where the advocates of peace in the Middle East must rise up and fight terror,” and conspicuously avoided standard entreaties for Israeli restraint.

DOJ: Ashcroft Considers Expanded Surveillance
The Attorney General is considering a plan to ease FBI restrictions on surveillance of religious and political groups as part of his ongoing attempt to root out terrorists operating within the U.S. No final decision has been made, though the suggestion is already under fire from Congressional Democrats and civil rights groups.

Immigration File: AFL-CIO Considers Amnesty
The annual convention of the AFL-CIO, opening today in Las Vegas, will make history this year with a new agenda item: amnesty for illegals as a means of boosting membership. The policy change has already been approved by the Executive Council, and will be put to a vote by member unions this week.


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