The "Dead or Alive" Bush administration has been remarkably silent in the wake of the decision by a military tribunal to, essentially, let Osama bin Laden's former driver go. And with good reason: the verdict and the resulting sentence were a stinging rebuke to the administration.
Yes, Salim Ahmed Hamdan was convicted -- of the least serious charge the administration brought -- and yes he has been locked up at Guantanamo for more than five years. But in sentencing him to serve just six more months, the six-member jury of military officers reiterated one of the most compelling arguments against our conduct of the "global war on terror."
Prosecutors have spun the verdict as a victory, saying that by rejecting the bulk of the government's case and slapping down its sentencing request the tribunal proved its legitimacy and allayed concerns that the United States was engaging in show trials.
I suppose you could look at it that way, but the truth is that the guys on the jury are the guys for whom the rules of engagement matter.
A better read is that our military is saying, "Hold on, civilian, all your tough talk doesn't mean you know what it's like to be in combat," that the rules are not political or theoretical, they are exceedingly pragmatic.
That's why, when all was said and done, Navy Capt. Keith J. Allred, the judge overseeing the case, told Hamdan "I hope the day comes that you are able to return to your wife and daughters and your country.
In the Times, Hamdan was quoted as replying "Inshallah," God willing. "Inshallah," Allred responded.
It's one thing for the chicken hawks in the administration to argue for "enhanced interrogation" techniques, but it's quite another to make that case when you to face the prospect after capture. The unnamed officers on the jury likely know what it is like to face hostile fire or to send men in to face it. They know that how we conduct ourselves in times of war doesn't guarantee like treatment at the hands of our enemies, but that bad behavior on our part will almost certainly prove harmful to our troops.
If you lie down with dogs you're gonna get fleas, and the jury realized that Hamdan was hanging with the mangiest of dogs. But they also realized that driving a car, or even having weapons in that car, is not commensurate with plotting the deaths of 3,000. and did not deserve 30 years in Guantanamo. The verdict ought to give hope to those who doubted the military after Abu Ghraib.
The reasons to have civilian oversight of the military are abundant, but our civilian leadership needs to listen to the professionals when it comes to the conduct of war -- both strategically and ethically.
I don't hold much hope that this lesson will be taken by the current administration, whose moral bank account is woefully overdrawn. I would not be surprised if Bush/Cheney harmed our international standing even more by ignoring the jury and holding Hamdan indefinitely.
Fortunately, they ought not get the chance to make that choice. The next administration should take power as Hamdan completes his sentence and should watch him leave Guantanamo and return to his family.