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Wednesday, November 28, 2001
MARTIN SCHRAM: Secret trials
Copyright © 2001 Nando Media
Copyright © 2001 Scripps Howard News Service
Scripps Howard News Service
(November 28, 4:37 a.m. AST) - Some like to say that Washington is a city of strange bedfellows - to explain why Republicans and Democrats sometimes come together just when you'd least expect it.
But I prefer to think of our capital city as a humongous ball, a veritable planet here on earth, complete with its own gravitational pull. That explains why we sometimes see a politician move as far to the right as possible to get away from the centrists - only to discover that he has wound up to the left of them. (Of course, it also works the other way, when lefties move so far to the left that they end up on the far right of the folks in the center.) When that phenomenon occurs, a consensus of physicists, geometrists and poli-scientists, issues the pronouncement that politics is "all balled up."
Which brings us, of course, to the subject of the latest plan of President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft to convene secret trials of accused terrorists under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It is opposed by unusual consensus and coalition of Washington pols who rarely seem to agree on anything.
Time out: We interrupt today's punditry for a pop quiz.
Q: Here are two comments, from one of the capital's outspoken liberals, Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and an equally outspoken conservative, Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga..
One said: "Less than one month ago, we passed far-reaching legislation, since signed into law, granting the federal government broad, new and expanded powers to combat terrorism. In fact, many of these provisions went far beyond tools to combat terrorism, and broadened federal criminal law and procedure for all criminal offenses and procedures. Now, even before the ink is dry on that legislation, the administration is, on its own and without consulting with the Congress, enacting sweeping, additional changes. ... These changes, if allowed to stand without congressional scrutiny, will likely set precedents that will come back to haunt us terribly."
The other said: "We have been enormously critical of the use of military courts in other countries when they have tried Americans. I think we have to look through and find out whether under these current situations that this kind of a process is in the best interests of justice."
Which was the liberal, which was the conservative?
A: The harsher, far more critical first comment was Bush's frequent champion and cheerleader, Bob Barr. The second questioning but cautious comment was Bush's frequent tormentor, Ted Kennedy. Go figure.
Even pundits of polar persuasions find themselves singing as one on this issue. Consider my old friend (and former source in the Nixon White House) Bill Safire and me.
Hear Safire, in his New York Times column last Monday: "Military attorneys are silently seething ... The U.C.M.J. demands a public trial, proof beyond reasonable doubt, an accused's voice in the selection of juries and right to choose counsel, unanimity in death sentencing and above all appellate review by civilians confirmed by the Senate. Not one of those fundamental rights can be found in Bush's military order setting up kangaroo courts for people he designates before 'trial' as terrorists. Bush's fiat turns back the clock on all advances in military justice, through three wars, in the past half-century."
Hear Schram: I couldn't have said it better myself.
But I will add one final thought. America has one thing to sell above all in the current war against terrorism and the battle for the hearts and minds of those who have and those who need. What we have to sell is democracy. Our firm faith in it. Our fervent support of it. Not just as a tool of geopolitical convenience, but as our ultimate unsecret weapon. When the times are tough and the threats are menacing, our U.S. Constitution, our rule of law and our freedoms are weapons so powerful that they will see us through.
Unless we break them or jam them because we acted hastily, and unwisely.
Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service.