THE BLOG

"Enemy Combatant" Is an Enemy to Justice

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Adam Blickstein Communications Director for the National Security Network

It's been nearly 3 weeks since the underwear bomber tried to blow up Flight 253 and instead incinerated his own manhood. And while Abdulmutallab's self immolation thankfully failed to cause any mass casualties, it has inflamed the Republican hysteria that actually emboldens al Qaeda's central goal of inciting American panic and terror. But crucial to GOP histrionics is the notion that America's constitution and legal system are not an adequate means for detaining and prosecuting Abdulmutallab. The common refrain as inanely elucidated by Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Liz Cheney is that by detaining and trying Abdulmutallab through America's judicial system, we are giving him the same rights as Americans, and therefore cannot decipher the crucial intelligence that will keep America safe. Never mind the fact that we have already received "useable, actionable intelligence" from Abdulmutallab and that abrogating our legal system further plays into al Qaeda's hands, but their declarations that he must be named an "enemy combatant" does not comport with the actual history of naming terror suspects "enemy combatants." Their logic is simple but horribly flawed: designate Abdulmutallab an enemy combatant, use whatever means necessary to get information out of him (whether or not that information is actually usable and actionable seems secondary) then try him in a military tribunal, not civilian court. Here's what John McCain said yesterday:

Second of all, I don't think the president's action matched his
rhetoric when we send this individual to a civilian court. That person
should be tried as an enemy combatant, he's a terrorist. And if we are
at war, then we certainly should not be trying that individual in a
court other than a military trial. To have a person be able to get
lawyered up when we need that information very badly, I think betrays
or contradicts the president's view that we are at war.

This doesn't betray the President's stance on going after al Qaeda; it betrays history. Only three terrorists designated as enemy combatants have been convicted and sentenced using military commissions, all at Guantanamo: Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who was subsequently released to Yemen, David Hicks who was subsequently released to his native Australia, and Ali al-Bahlul, who is now serving a life sentence at Guantanamo Bay. Meanwhile, nearly 200 terrorists have been tried, convicted and imprisoned using American courts.

But more importantly, the two men who have previously been charged and detained as enemy combatants on America soil, José Padilla and Ali al-Marri were later transferred to the civilian judicial system and tried, convicted and sentenced using American courts. Not only were the "enemy combatants" Padilla and al-Marri not tried in military commissions but rather civilian courts, but they were also the last terrorists detained in America to be designated as enemy combatants. And that was in June of 2003. So Republicans who clamor for Abdulmutallab to be named an "enemy combatant" want him to enter a flawed system that even the Bush administration couldn't successfully use, that currently only has one convicted, imprisoned terrorist, that hasn't been utilized since 2003, and has never been used to bring a terrorist detained on American soil to justice. Following Cheney and McCain's callous and partisan desire to do so wouldn't just be unprecedented, it would also be dangerously incompetent.

The bottom line is out of all the hundreds of terrorists designated an "enemy combatant" only one is currently being imprisoned under the hollow framework as envisioned by the Republican Party. It's really telling that when it comes to bringing terrorists to justice, they advocate a system that is not only defective, but simply statistically has nearly the worst track record possible when it comes to actually convicting terrorists. Makes you think that convicting terrorists isn't really their first priority, but that defending the severely flawed system, dangerous to our security, that they instituted is more important than keeping America safe.