One Zany Day in the Life of the War on Terror

There are some days on the terror-law beat that drone on endlessly. You read the same old briefs alleging the same old civil rights violations made by the same old creepy government officials. And then there are days like today, when chaos and consternation abound, and the turf upon which the legal war has been fought suddenly heaves up and is made new again.

Where should I start? I suppose I could start with the pathetic performance offered this morning by the nation's top lawyer, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who seems more hapless, overwhelmed, disrespected, and ineffective each time he appears in public. On this occasion, Gonzales played it coy with the Senate Judiciary Committee when its chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked for information about the terms of a deal reached between the White House and the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court-- which was created by Congress, remember, nearly 30 years ago. Even though the Court signalled it would be happy to share the information with the Congress, Gonzales warned that "there's going to be information about operational details about how we're doing this that we want to keep confidential." It's no wonder that Sen. Leahy suggested the matter had entered "Alice in Wonderland" territory.

And as if that silliness weren't enough, the Pentagon chose today to announce that it had, as expected, followed the language and intent of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and changed its tribunal rules so that some of the detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba could begin to be prosecuted. Even though the new rules generally track the language of the federal law-- for better and for worse-- the Pentagon's declaration brought with it an immediate, spasmodic reaction by the chattering class about the possibility that one or more of the detainees could be sentenced to death following a conviction that was based upon hearsay evidence or information gleaned from "coercion" (whatever that means).

It's true that the new military rules are better than the old ones, which were struck down by the Supreme Court. It's true that the Justices could again get involved to evaluate some of the more problematic new rules and delay Gitmo trials for another few years. And it's true that Congress can hop back into this fight and change the law again. But as one Pentagon lawyer said Thursday, things are moving forward down there, maybe this time for real. It wouldn't surprise me if 2007 is finally the year in which we begin to see some military tribunals at work. For all of its farce, for all of its political nonsense, for all of its bad policy, today was a huge day in the legal war on terror.

By Andrew Cohen |  January 18, 2007; 4:15 PM ET agag
Previous: The Living Legacy of Art Buchwald | Next: The Bad Guys Lose Big on Horse Slaughter


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Stop your pointless criticism and start writing about better applicable ways of detecting this very shadowy terror. Use your head if there is any brain in it, and when the outcome can outdate the current methods in application, all will follow you.

Posted by: saeed /libya | January 18, 2007 06:28 PM

Speaking of using your head, I consider myself relatively bright and couldn't understand what Saeed's comment meant...

Posted by: Dave | January 18, 2007 06:49 PM

Good characterization of Gonzales who himself is a microcosm of the administration itself. How sad that seventy percent of the population of the richest country in the world views its president as a bumpkin.

Posted by: Another Dave | January 19, 2007 10:12 AM

Even in their new incarnation under the MCA of 2006 and these rules, we're seeing an extraordinarily uneven legal playing field created in which case-law and precedent are virtually nullified, and protections for the accused in legal proceedings and as prisoners are significantly curtailed. Conviction-made-simple will lead to long-term imprisonment involving abuse and torture with impunity.
Not the kind of country we want or need to be.

Posted by: Paul Magno | January 19, 2007 10:44 AM

I am one hundred percent in agreement with Paul Magno's comment posted at 10:44 above, the legal proceedings of this administration displayed at Guantanamo and elsewhere do not reflect this country as we want and need to be.

And I am disappointed in your choice of language and tone, you are writing a legal blog and I do not think "zany" is an apt description of Guantamano courts nor is your feigned confusion regarding what "coercion" may mean.

I think you may be writing down to your audience, please don't. Thank you and I look forward to reading your page in the future.

Posted by: frances | January 23, 2007 11:11 AM

The idea that the country is crawling with muslim terrorists and that justifes spying on millions of innocent Americans is a classic dow-the-rabbit-hole paranoid state that the Bush regime uses to suppress our freedoms in the name of safety. George Bush is the kind of President that the Founding Fathers feared most; and we've allowed him to systematically destroy or evade all the safeguards they put in place against just such a day. All we have to do is believe the propaganda war that fans our fears and we'll sell our souls to this administration, and gut the Constitution. And we have the nerve to claim that America is the world's best hope and leading example of democracy.

Pure insanity, getting worse day by day.

Posted by: windrider | January 26, 2007 09:15 PM

The Impeachments need to begin. Mr. was impeached for telling one lie about an intimate encounter with an intern. I do nto believe that this hurt our country. The Republicans hounded him relentlessly, and the media was all over it. Now most media is owned by the same soulLess kind of people that are running the White House. Time for the accountablility to begin. Cheney, Bush, Gonzalez and others to numerous to name need to find out that they are not above the law. Bush is a war criminal and a liar as well is a thief who raided the Clinton Surplus and squandered it to the rich thusly robbing the rest of us. The Republican party has always been a wolf in sheeps clothing. They had to breakin to the Watergate hotel and steal information , and then the Iran Contra situation where the the Congress did not approve funding they recruited their rich friends to hire mercenaries and got there anyway. They stole the election in 2000 and again in 2004 and this is a fact most of us know now. Bush is mentally incompetent and has been aleinating countrys and their leaders, he is singulary responsible for the reappearance of nuclear proliferation. I have been more afraid of our idiot president than any terrist. Bush is the terrorist. Bush has delusions of grandeur. He thinks he can settle a fued that has been for thousands of years. Needlessly, slaying our young men to feed his delutions and make Cheney and Haliburton rich. I could go on these are just a few things off the top of my head. IMPEACHMENT NOW, IT IS TIME TO TAKE OUT THE GARBAGE AND AVERT A NUCLEAR WAR WITH IRAN OR NORTH KOREA.THIS IS PARAMOUNT. Sincerely, Mary L. Mayfield Springfield, Missouri 65806

Posted by: Mary Mayfield | January 29, 2007 12:42 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company