Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Case for Tribunals

Since the first Taliban and Al Qaida captives began arriving at Guantanamo almost four years ago, the ACLU has been in an uproar over U.S. plans to try suspected terrorists in military tribunals, rather than the federal court system.

You can debate the legal status of the detainees all day, but the best case for tribunals can be found in federal court room, where the trail of Zacarias Moussaoui, the suspected 9-11 conspirator, drags on and on.

The latest twist in the case is that Moussaoui wants to plead guilty (again). The made the offer before, then changed his mind. In between, he's taken a stab at representing himself, bombarding U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema with filings filled with racist language. In one motion, Moussaoui said he "wanted anthrax for the Jew sympathizer." Judge Brinkema finally stripped Moussaoui of the right to defend himself in 2003, and the case has lurched along ever since. The trail has been delayed at least three times, and there are lingering questions as to whether Moussaoui is mentally competent.

I say Moussaoui is crazy--crazy like a fox. He's become adept at playing the legal system, deliberately turning his trial into an excruciating legal exercise, with no end in sight, unless, of course, he decides to go through with a plea bargin and doesn't change his mind (again).

There are more than 500 suspected terrorists now in U.S. custody. Multiply the Moussaoui mess by even half that number, and you'll get some idea of the legal logjam that Al Qaida and Taliban suspects would create within our federal court system. More than a few of the detainees are bright, college-educated, and more than capable of using the legal system to their advantage. And, of course, there are more than a few ACLU lawyers willing to assist in their legal battles.

That's why tribunals make so much sense. Take a look at the train wreck called the Moussaoui case, and you'll see a legal disaster that could have been inflicted on our entire court system. In the War on Terrorism, that's the last thing we need.

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