Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn) argued on Sunday that the Obama administration had erred in its decision to place several terrorist suspects into the criminal court system -- in the process, placing himself even further on the conservative spectrum than former Bush administration official (and co-panelist) Michael Chertoff.
Appearing on "Meet the Press," the Connecticut Independent insisted that part of the prosecution of war (whether conventional or not) was to utilize and incorporate a military form of justice for captured enemies.
"We are at war," Lieberman said. "We were attacked on 9/11. And I think when you're at war, even though this is a different kind of war, people you capture, enemies who are aiming to attack or have in fact attacked you, ought to be tried according to the rules of war. It's not that we aren't going to have the rule of law. It's which rule of law. So I think that the Christmas day bomber, [Maj. Nidal M.] Hasan at Ft. Hood, they're as much enemies of ours and soldiers in the war of Islamic extremism against us, as the people we capture and put into prison or war camps in Afghanistan or Iraq."
The line of argument is reflective of the sharp conservative ethos that Lieberman has brought to this and other foreign policy debates. It's shared, not surprisingly, by a host of Republican officials both in and out of office but not, it should be noted, by several top figures from the Bush administration.
How far has the debate over terrorist trials moved in a matter of years? Former Attorney General John Ashcroft now is on the outside of the Republican Party looking in, having publicly expressed his support for the criminal justice system as a venue for trying and holding terrorist suspects. And preceding Lieberman on "Meet The Press," former Department Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff (who once ran the criminal division at DoJ) also argued that the criminal system had a role to play in counter-terrorism efforts.
"If someone was caught in the U.S., at the end of the day they wound up being tried in a U.S. court for a whole lot of practical and legal reasons, including the fact it is easy to get the evidence if someone is acting in the United States itself," Chertoff said. "It doesn't mean you have to give Miranda warnings. But it does mean you can put them ultimately through the system. Generally the view was, if someone was caught overseas and they weren't an American, we didn't bring them into a U.S. court because there are huge obstacles to gathering evidence, and some of the process issues when you apprehend someone in a battlefield. Without laying down an ironclad rule, my general approach is catch them here, try them here. Catch them overseas, put them in a military [tribunal]."