by Robert Parry
August 7, 2008
The U.S. military commission’s split guilty verdict on Ahmed Hamdan,
a former driver for Osama bin Laden, has drawn praise from the Bush administration
and criticism from civil rights groups, but what has been overlooked is the
chilling message that “the Hamdan principle” sends about future
prosecutions in the “war on terror.”
This new principle holds that anyone — regardless of how tangential a
connection to actual acts of terrorism — can be prosecuted through the
kangaroo court of the military commissions and be sentenced to a long prison
term (or even death). Though Hamdan is a Yemeni, the principle would seem to
apply to U.S citizens, too.
In effect, a parallel legal system has been created outside the U.S. Constitution
in which the President can order someone locked up indefinitely simply by calling
the person an “enemy combatant” and then subjecting the person to
what amounts to a “star chamber” proceeding that permits use of
secret evidence and coerced testimony.
Though some legal experts insist these special courts don’t apply to
U.S. citizens, the language of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and a recent
federal court ruling make clear that President George W. Bush’s asserted
wartime power to order indefinite detentions covers citizens and non-citizens.
In July, the conservative-dominated U.S. Appeals Court in Richmond, Virginia,
opened the door for Bush or a successor to throw American citizens as well as
non-citizens into a legal black hole by designating them “enemy combatants,”
even if they have engaged in no violent act and are living on U.S. soil.
Though that 5-4 ruling on July 15 addressed the case of Qatari citizen (and
Peoria, Illinois, resident) Ali al-Marri, the court’s more liberal judges
expressed alarm that the same legal reasoning for denying al-Marri meaningful
due process could be used to lock up U.S. citizens.