Politicizing terrorism, again
NOVEMBER 07, 2011
DID TAREK Mehanna, the Lincoln-Sudbury High School graduate who holds a doctoral degree from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, conspire to provide material support to Al Qaeda? Anyone who is curious can visit his trial at Boston’s federal courthouse. But if recent amendments to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act pass, Mehanna, whose supporters claim he was nothing more than a vocal opponent of the Iraq war, might never have his day in court.
Many Republicans in Congress, led by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and Arizona Senator John McCain, are pushing proposals that would mandate military custody and adjudication for all terrorism suspects. They would also allow for the indefinite detention without trial of certain types of terrorism suspects, whether caught in Yemen or Yarmouth.
There is no justification for mandatory military tribunals. Civilian trials are appropriate for many suspects including Mehanna, and help to leverage vast state, local, and federal law-enforcement resources in the fight against terrorism. No effective counterterrorism strategy would sacrifice an effective mechanism that has put many terrorists behind bars.
Surely a former military lawyer like Graham knows that there is no problem with the current policy, which assigns suspects to civilian courts or military tribunals based on the particulars of their case, that would justify such a precipitous change. Surely a senator as immersed in foreign policy as McCain knows that the United States could lose the ability to bring overseas terrorism suspects to the United States for trial if allies refused to turn them over to a mandatory military tribunal.
This whole debate seems contoured mainly for political purposes. If President Obama were to veto the National Defense Authorization Act because of its changes in the treatment of terrorism suspects, Republicans can accuse him of weakening national security. I tis a revival of Bush-era tactics designed to make toughness on terrorism into a political wedge, with those concerned about legal processes portrayed as weak. The House and Senate should hold firm against these unnecessary and deeply harmful amendments.