MAYBE LAMAR SMITH SHOULD TAKE A CLOSER LOOK…. For about four years, the Bush administration held terrorist Ahmed Ghailani at Guantanamo Bay, and didn’t have much of a plan going forward. The Obama administration tried a different approach — filing charges against Ghailani, subjecting him to the federal criminal justice system, and convicting him on terrorist conspiracy charges. Ghailani will now likely spend the rest of his days behind bars.
The case against him, however, wasn’t easy. The accused was acquitted on most of the charges against him because the evidence was inadmissible — the Bush gang tortured him. Still, a conviction is a conviction.
The right doesn’t quite see it that way. Elon Green notes an exchange this week between Hugh Hewitt and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. For Hewitt, the successful conviction of Ghailani was a “fiasco,” and asked whether Smith’s committee could prevent similar trials in the future. Smith replied:
“Well, as you say, they tried a terrorist in New York City. That was supposed to be their best case, they had their best witnesses. That was the one that they were going to use as an example and say you know, here, yes we can conduct a trial of a terrorist in the United States. And even if they get some rights as citizens, we’re still going to be able to find them guilty on all counts.
“Well as you know, this individual was found guilty on one count of, I think, 254. And even though he was found guilty of building the explosives, he wasn’t found guilty of killing, I think, 254 innocent people who were killed, among them several dozen Americans. So in that situation, it clearly did not work as the administration had planned, and it kind of blew up in their face, and the judge didn’t allow some of the evidence and some of the testimony that would have been allowed if this individual had been tried at Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, the so-called Gitmo.”
Fact-checking this is a challenge, only because Smith is so wrong, it’s hard to know where to start. Let’s stick to the most glaring flaws.
First, the administration never promised a conviction on “all counts”; it promised that following the American rule of law and our system of justice would lead to the appropriate outcome. And it did — the terrorist is going away. If Smith wanted Ghailani convicted on more counts, he should take it up with the Republican administration that tortured him.
Second, the administration may have intended to use this trial to demonstrate a larger point, and to a very real extent, it worked — there were no security threats, no opportunities for the accused to use the proceedings as a platform, and stick to the rule of law led to a conviction. The administration wanted a public, transparent, legitimate trial, with lawyers and a jury, to help demonstrate America’s commitment to its own principles.
Lamar Smith might not remember, but Republicans used to be for this, too. As Elon noted, “During George W. Bush’s presidency, it was not uncommon for terrorism suspects to be tried, convicted and receive lengthy sentences in American courts. These numbers include Mohammed Jabarah, Richard Reid, the ‘shoe bomber,’ Bryant Neal Vinas, Mohammed Junaid Babar and Shahawar Matin Siraj — all of whom will be imprisoned for decades.”
Smith wasn’t complaining at the time. I wonder why that is.
And finally, Smith is also convinced it’s preferable to try terror suspects in military tribunals. As the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, it’s disconcerting that he doesn’t realize how awful tribunals’ track record is.
As Colin Powell noted earlier this year, “In eight years the military commissions have put three people on trial. Two of them served relatively short sentences and are free. One guy is in jail. Meanwhile, the federal courts — our Article III, regular legal court system — has put dozens of terrorists in jail and they’re fully capable of doing it.”