Yesterday’s New York Times covers the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruling that military commission trials are fair under the Constitution:
Judge Robertson had held that the commissions could not go on because they did not provide minimally fair procedures and violated international law. His conclusion threw into doubt the legal proceedings devised by the administration to deal with hundreds of suspected terrorists captured by the United States in Afghanistan during the military campaign that toppled the Taliban following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
President Bush has declared all Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters to be unlawful enemy combatants, and as such not entitled to be treated as legitimate prisoners of war.
Critics of the administration have argued that the military commission trials do not afford all the legal protections that courts-martial do. But in the appeal upheld today, the administration argued that the commission trials were fair – and not incidentally a vital part of its war on terrorism – and that since the stateless Qaeda terror network had never signed the Geneva Convention, its members were not entitled to the protections afforded prisoners of war, which include the right not to be put on trial for hostilities.
Administration lawyers had argued that Judge Robertson, in conferring Geneva Convention protections on Mr. Hamdan and by extension others like him, had “put terrorism on the same legal footing as legitimate methods of waging war.”
Those “legitimate methods,” as described in the Convention, include wearing uniforms to distinguish fighters from civilians and prohibitions against making civilians targets. The administration argued that Al Qaeda fighters had openly defied the Convention.
The court also ruled that Al Qaeda fighters were not prisoners of war – they were illegal combatants.