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Non Sequiturs and the Like

January 6, 2010

Victoria Toensing’s piece the other day had a line that I really liked:

The constitutional protections designed to ensure a person is not wrongfully convicted have no relevance to wartime military needs. The argument that our system is strong enough to try a terrorist is a non sequitur. It equates to the argument that if a person is in excellent health, she can withstand being set ablaze.

Indeed.  It’s not about whether or not we can get a conviction, it’s about whether or not we should seek one.  It seems that everybody is in general agreement that this Abdulmutallab fellow isn’t exactly a white-collar terrorist—he didn’t even know how to operate the bomb that he had strapped into his own knickers.  It wouldn’t be a substantial victory for us at all if we convicted this guy.  What we need from his is intelligence.  Somebody built the bomb for him, and somebody helped him get on that plane sans a passport.  These are things we should want to know.  Toensing, again:

Yes, we could try him first and then interrogate him. But by then the information is stale, especially if he utilizes the same legal challenges Moussaoui did to drag out the process for years.

Of course, there are much larger consequences of blanketing terrorists under the civilian trial rule (the President hasn’t even done that, yet).  The problem with trying foreign combatants in civilian trials is much deeper, and much more problematic.  Shannon Love explains:

The greatest danger posed in the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) isn’t that he will go free. The greatest danger is that he will be convicted and that during his appeals the courts will ratify all of the extraordinary measures used to capture and convict him. The great danger is that the courts will ratify the rough, inaccurate and ambiguous norms of martial law as applying to all civil criminal trials.

Not to mention that the President himself eliminated the presumption of innocence before there’s even been a hearing.  Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Jonah’s column on the issue.

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