Bush asked last weekend that Congress vote to establish military commissions so we might start bringing some of our country's sworn and once-active enemies to trial. Nothing is easy or clear-cut in post-9/11 America. That includes the question of what rights we accord those enemies and what rights we sensibly withhold.Offered a proposal bearing George W. Bush's name, various Americans want to honk their noses into it. As it happens, prominent military lawyers, schooled in traditional jurisprudence, are encouraging a more spacious view of prisoner rights than the White House is proposing. They in turn gain encouragement from Republican senators like John McCain -- whose Hanoi Hilton experiences give him permanent stature to address such questions -- and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a onetime military prosecutor who called the Bush proposal "a bridge too far."
Well, I don't know. Is it? It might be if we were facing a normal enemy, say, Hitler's Wehrmacht. A normal enemy we don't see in Anbar Province and Lebanon. As Bush noted last week, these enemies "represent no nation, they defend no territory, and they wear no uniform. ... They operate in the shadows of society. ... They conspire in secret, and then they strike without warning." As on 9/11.
The beef in Senate speeches and on left-wing blogs -- a strange combination, if you ask me -- is that Bush's proposed policy would afford the gentle inhabitants of Guantanamo "a second-class system of justice," one "designed to hide use of torture and other interrogation abuses." The Bush policy would prohibit defense lawyers from sharing classified information with their clients. "I fell over when I read it," says Graham. Fell over? Better surely than rolling over and playing the Perfect Humanitarian.