Paul Greenberg

Again with Guantanamo.

Whenever this president can't answer a direct question about some failure of American security, or at least can't answer it satisfactorily, he goes into his riff about the need to ... close the brig at Guantanamo.

This shtick always works. It gets his true believers applauding and his habitual critics stirred up. Ah, the best of both possible political worlds! Best of all, he never has to get back to that embarrassing question, having changed the subject.

There's a reason that an offshore military prison was set up where it was: to confine terrorists and those suspected of being such someplace where they could be safely questioned at length under military law. Rather than transfer them to the mainland and treat them as ordinary criminal suspects with all the rights and privileges appertaining thereto. And take all the risks such a move would involve. Including the possibility, indeed probability, that, once read his rights à la Miranda, the prisoner will clam up and American intelligence will be denied valuable information. The kind of information that might prevent the next terrorist attack.

Our president, now confronted by tough questions about terrorist attacks from Benghazi to Boston and why they weren't foiled, would rather talk about the need to ... close the brig at Guantanamo.

Its existence offends him. As it has for years. Maybe because American military law in general does; he doesn't seem to recognize it as law at all but some kind of inferior substitute to be evaded whenever possible. Even if the U.S. code of military justice predates the U.S. Constitution, has a rich history of its own, and, when a new kind of barbaric war is unleashed, has its indispensable uses. Uses that civil law may not, especially in these times and these circumstances.

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The first military tribunals in this country were set up by George Washington, who was commander of the continental army even before there was a republic called the United States of America. As a charming British gentleman, major and, alas, spymaster named John André discovered when he was caught out of uniform -- with an American passport, false identity and detailed plans of West Point, all supplied courtesy of the ever obliging Benedict Arnold. The traitor got away, but his handler didn't.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.